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Florida's Guardian program short $5 million for school security

The money was reallocated by the state of Florida as funding needs changed with COVID-19.

TAMPA, Fla. — After the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, state lawmakers allocated $67 million to make sure every school had armed security as part of the statewide Guardian program.

Money not spent the first year was carried over to 2020, but then came COVID-19, and unspent funds intended for future training and to keep the program running this year and beyond suddenly disappeared.

“It was on the governor’s veto list,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission. “There was about $41.5 million dollars of the initial $67 million that was still sitting there on June 30 of this year and the state took that money back and, in essence, defunded the Guardian Program.”

So what does that mean for keeping school campuses safe this year? Many like Polk County got their training done early so officers would be ready for the upcoming school year.

But, other districts were so focused on figuring out the COVID-19 crisis and hadn’t yet trained their Guardians or bought them equipment.

Gualtieri says he expects this year’s Guardian Program to be short around $5 million statewide.

“We’re going to try to look for money and see if there are any funding sources out there or available,” Gualtieri said. “If not, and there are no funding sources available anywhere at the state level, then it’s really going to fall back to the individual school districts.”

Thirty-nine local sheriff’s offices across the state receive funding to train Guardians used by 43 of the state’s 67 districts. The state reports there are currently 1,235 Guardians in place for the state’s more than 3,700 schools, a number some districts are still trying to grow.

“The immediate thing that’s on the table is to make sure that these Guardian academies can get it done and make sure there’s a good person with a gun at every charter, elementary, middle and high school campus in the state of Florida," Gualtieri said.

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