Editorial: Quick action: More money for school resource officers

  • The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
7:13 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 Opinion
Buses pick up the kids to take them back to West Boca. West Boca High School students walked to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl., February 20, 2018. (Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post)

A week after the worst school shooting in modern Florida history, parents and public school children are mad as hell and are sounding increasingly like they’re not going to take it anymore. And our state leaders are still, well, talking… and talking… and talking.

On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott held a series of meetings with agencies — including the departments of Education, and Children and Families — to discuss everything from school safety to mental health to restricting certain residents’ access to guns. Again, more talk.

But as state leaders will no doubt hear from thousands of Parkland students, teachers, parents and their supporters today,, they want action to protect Florida children from another mass shooting on a school campus.

On Valentine’s Day, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz upended the gun debate by walking into Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and killing 17 people, and wounding at least 15 0thers. Five people remain hospitalized in critical condition. Amid all the recriminations and second-guessing that has followed, it is incontrovertible that Cruz’s horrific actions have shined a glaring spotlight on the indefensible way in which political leaders approach protecting our public schools from our “Gunshine State” culture.

How ridiculous is it that someone who is not old enough to legally purchase liquor or cigarettes is legally able to purchase a military-style assault weapon? But that’s Florida law.

So when our state politicians (those with the courage to speak at all) ask, “How do we make sure that our schools are safe for students?” the answer must be, “Put our children first.”

To be sure, statements have come fast and furious. Incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, is confident that measures under consideration — including raising the age to 21 for the purchase of “assault” rifles by people not in law enforcement or the military, establishing a waiting period for the purchase of such weapons and reviewing background screening requirements — can be completed before the 60-day session ends March 9.

The Senate has already proposed a $13 million spending increase, to $78.1 million, for school safety and another $100 million as part of a new category of K-12 school funding specifically to assess and treat mental health (SB 1434).

But faith that this Republican-controlled legislature will take action is hard to come by. On Tuesday, for example, the House voted down a motion to take up a bill that would ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. The vote, 71-36, wasn’t even close.

And then there’s reversing a decade of lackluster spending on school safety.

For at least the last five budget cycles, Scott and legislative leaders have kept “Safe Schools” funding — which primarily pays for school resource/police/security officers — flat, at $64.5 million compared to roughly $75.6 million in 2007-08. Despite nearly 200,000 additional public school students statewide and corresponding enforcement responsibilities, i.e. bullying and hazing prevention, and a stricter code of conduct, lawmakers have ignored local school officials’ pleas for increased funding.

Only 1,500 of the state’s 4,000 public schools have dedicated school resource officers, although some schools rely on sheriff’s deputies to provide security. To protect our kids, local school districts need help filling this gap. They don’t need potentially dangerous, cockamamie proposals like allowing armed “volunteers” to patrol school campuses.

As we said about such a proposed bill in 2014: “What parent would want some individual they don’t know and don’t pay to protect their children, to walk freely around their campus toting a gun?”

Yet, the day after the Stoneman Douglas shooting, Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley placed a bill that would allow designated people to carry concealed firearms onto school grounds on the agenda of this Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.

Trampling on parents’ fear and grief is just crass. It was a bad idea in 2014; it’s a bad idea now. And it was thankfully removed from the agenda on Monday.

Talk of arming school employees, expanding background checks, revamping the Baker Act, along with better integration of data, coordination of mental health care and services and early screening and assessment, will take a while.

Scott and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, are both promised Douglas High parents they would find a way to keep their kids safe at school.

They can start by simply adding money for trained school resource officers — now.