In a significant move, the Florida Legislature, during a special legislative session on Wednesday, passed legislation aimed at enhancing security measures at Jewish day schools. The bill, termed the “Security Grants” bill, allocates a substantial $45 million towards physical security enhancements. Of this, $25 million is specifically earmarked for Jewish day schools. This decision comes in the wake of increased anti-Semitic incidents, a concern echoed by both lawmakers and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has noted a spike in such occurrences across the United States.
Wider Security Concerns
In addition to Jewish day schools, the legislation also addresses security needs at other locations. A total of $20 million, managed by the Division of Emergency Management, will be distributed to various sites that demonstrate an elevated threat level. This provision is made through a federal grant, ensuring a broader scope of protection beyond specific community institutions.
HBCU Security Needs Highlighted
The legislative session also witnessed an appeal from Black lawmakers for increased security funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). This appeal gained traction particularly in light of recent violent incidents, such as the murder of three Black individuals in Jacksonville. The relevance of this request was underscored by an alarming incident where a white shooter attempted to enter the campus of Edward Waters University, a historically Black institution. Senator Tracie Davis of Jacksonville, visibly emotional, emphasized the need for protective measures for HBCUs while acknowledging the necessity of overall student safety.
Educational Support Through Vouchers
The Florida Legislature also addressed educational needs by modifying the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA). The new legislation aims to remove the cap on the number of students eligible for this scholarship in the current school year. Previously set to benefit nearly 41,000 students, the change is expected to alleviate the waitlist predicament, which currently stands at over 8,000 students.
Concerns Over Voucher Program Efficiency
While there is broad support for the voucher program, concerns were raised about its efficiency. State Representative Robin Bartleman from Broward County highlighted issues regarding the distribution of funds by the primary funding partner for FES-UA, Step Up For Students. Inadequate and delayed funding has reportedly caused financial difficulties for families and schools relying on these services.
Unanimous Legislative Approval
Both the security and educational support bills received unanimous approval in the House and Senate, marking a strong bipartisan consensus on these critical issues. The measures will now proceed to Governor Ron DeSantis’ desk for final approval, paving the way for enhanced security at educational institutions and expanded support for students with unique needs.