Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants the state to spend $1 million next year to help pay security costs at Jewish schools, a 53 percent increase over this year’s precedent-setting appropriation of $654,491 for safety measures.
Scott made the announcement on Monday at Katz Hillel Day School west of Boca Raton, where many of the school’s 510 students lined walkways on the campus with hand-lettered signs to greet the governor.
“I know many Floridians have been horrified by the threats against our Jewish schools and communities last year. We have absolutely zero tolerance for these hateful and anti-Semitic acts, and our state has taken important action to keep our students and all of our families safe,” Scott said.
Scott said the money would pay for more security measures such as video cameras, fences, security gates and bullet-proof glass.
ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said directing government funding to one religious group “raises constitutional concerns about the separation of church and state.”
The ACLU did not challenge the $654,491 approved by the Legislature earlier this year and earmarked specifically for security at Jewish schools.
Simon said security money should be available to other groups that have faced hate crimes, including “Muslims, Sikhs and children from a variety of immigrant groups…The Governor needs to be concerned about the safety of school children from all communities.”
Asked specifically on Monday if other groups who could document threats could apply for security money, Scott said, “What I’ve proposed in my budget is Jewish day schools. It’s $1 million for Jewish day schools.”
Reported anti-Semitic incidents nationwide increased 34 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In Florida, the ADL says incidents of vandalism, harassment and assault targeting Jewish people or institutions increased from 91 in 2015 to 137 in 2016. There were 41 reported anti-Semitic incidents in Florida during the first quarter of 2017, the group says.
“With increasing hate and anti-Semitic incidents around the country, it’s powerful for us to know that we have your support, Gov. Scott,” said Daniel Adler, a board member at the school and vice chairman of Teach Florida, a group that advocates for the approximately 10,000 students in Jewish day schools around the state.
House and Senate leaders sounded supportive of Scott’s proposal but didn’t commit to a specific number.
“We echo the Governor’s concern for Florida’s Jewish citizens and visitors and will do all we can to create a safe educational environment. As we pointed out last week with the introduction of the Hope Scholarship, if a child is not safe then they will struggle to learn,” said House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes.
“The right of a free people to practice any religion, or no religion, must be protected in our state,” said Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. “We will not accept threats against our Jewish community or any attempt to make our hardworking teachers and students fearful in their own schools. Investing in security funding for our Jewish Day Schools shows that we remain fully dedicated to protecting the free exercise of religion in our communities.”