If legislation moves forward, Florida could join about a dozen states in allowing licensed gun holders to bring firearms onto school campuses.
And that’s just one of a handful of legislative proposals that could significantly alter the workings of the state’s public schools.
While the majority of those gun laws, in place in states from Texas to Kansas, give faculty with gun permits the right to carry concealed weapons, a bill being considered by lawmakers in Florida would turn that power over to district administrators to designate one or more persons at each school to be exempt from state law prohibiting guns on school property. That person could be a district employee or an outsider, such as a retired police officer or National Guardsman, provided the individual had an up-to-date gun license. Each district could decide for itself whether it wanted to post gun carriers in its schools or not.
Senate Bill 1236 — and its companion bill (HB 621) — was introduced in Tallahassee in time for the 2018 legislative session. According to one of its sponsors, Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), the bill was drafted with the idea that “the safekeeping of our students, teachers and campuses is imperative.”
While St. Johns County Schools Superintendent Tim Forson said he could understand the motivation behind the legislation, “I’m not convinced that having firearms in schools is the answer. … Just on the surface, I would be concerned about how this could be implemented.”
Pointing out that the bill was still very preliminary, St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan said if passed, local law enforcement officers would work with district leaders, as they always have, on safety procedures “that are appropriate for each school” to plan for active-shooter scenarios.
The proposal is just one measure being considered by lawmakers in what looks to be a busy legislative session based on the number of bills filed in both the House and Senate.
Here’s a look at some of the other pieces of legislation introduced in 2018 that could impact education in Florida:
• SB 1056 would require schools (excluding charters) to offer computer coding courses to middle and high school students, perhaps in the way other generations were encouraged to take typing or home economics. The course would have to be taught by an instructor with computer science certification or professional experience in the field. If approved, the requirement would go into effect in the 2018-19 school year and school districts could potentially receive subsidies to enable educators to earn the credentials to teach a coding course, for which those instructors would receive a stipend.
Students could also be looking at a requirement (CS/SB 88) to take at least one half-credit class in financial literacy and money management in order to graduate from high school.
• Another, even more specific bill, introduced in the Senate (SB 96) would mandate public schools teach students about the “dangers and signs” of human trafficking as part of their health education requirement.
• The Florida Bright Futures Scholarship program could see some changes in how it awards funding to qualifying students as well as how students use that funding if lawmakers approve of SB 1752 and HB 1331. The program provides scholarships based on high school academic achievement. But the criteria for those awards would now be an SAT score of 1280 or ACT score of 27 to receive a Florida Academic Scholars Award to receive 100 percent of tuition as well as a textbook allowance. Students would have to earn an SAT score of 1100 or ACT score of 22 to have 75 percent of their tuition and books covered through the Florida Medallion Scholars Award. Those scholarships could be extended to summer term enrollment if funding allowed.
• Under SB 794, amendments could also be made to eligibility requirements and awards for the Sunshine Scholarship program, which offsets tuition fees for in-state students attending a school in the Florida College System. A similar bill has been introduced at the House level (HB 181).
• Last June, Gov. Rick Scott used his veto pen to block SB 374 which would have affected the Florida Community College System. But similar legislation has been reintroduced in the 2018 session under CS/SB 540 and its companion bill (H 831). The measure would make institutions like St. Johns River State College subject to a performance-based funding formula. It would also create a governing board to oversee the 28 community colleges that are now under the state Board of Education.