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Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, makes an emphatic point about (HB 15) that would expand the Gardiner Scholarship Program for children with disabilities on the Senate floor Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (Photo by Phil Sears)

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Legislation seeks to help schools hit by Hurricane Michael

Two bills address enrollment concerns in the wake of the October cyclone.

Lawmakers are eyeing temporary changes to help K-12 schools and colleges in Northwest Florida recover from Hurricane Michael.

The Senate Education Committee forwarded two bills on Tuesday aimed at helping schools offset decreases in enrollment and funding that’s tied to it.

One measure (SB 520) sponsored by Tallahassee Democratic Sen. Bill Montford would “hold harmless” school districts that were affected by the near-Category 5 storm, which made landfall in Mexico Beach Oct. 10.

The bill provides for a “special one-time appropriation” for K-12 school districts that suffered decreases in enrollment between October and February. The appropriation would offset any loss of revenue due to a decline in the number of full-time students. 

“Schools are often a safe haven for communities during catastrophic events like this one,” Montford said. “Their ability to get up and running gives families a sense of normalcy and security even when everything else has not returned to normal.”

Standing to benefit from the bill are Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty and Washington counties.

Montford said the provision is included in the Senate’s budget, which the chamber will consider on Wednesday. 

The committee advanced another bill (SB 1164) by state Sen. George Gainer that would help Florida colleges impacted by Hurricane Michael recruit out-of-state students.

“We had a devastating storm hit Northwest Florida,” said Gainer, a Panama City Republican. “Among other things, it kind of wrecked some of our colleges and their attendance.”

The measure would let Florida colleges that were in Hurricane Michael’s path waive out-of-state fees beginning next year. The three-year provision would apply to Florida College System institutions that suffered a more-than 10 percent decrease in enrollment because of the storm.

To be eligible for a waiver, the student would not be able to disenroll from the school for more than one semester.

An analysis accompanying the bill notes that the storm-battered area is home to four colleges: Chipola College, Gulf Coast State College, North Florida Community College and Tallahassee Community College.

Only Chipola and Gulf Coast State have had decreases in enrollment, the analysis added. 

The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee on Monday backed a similar bill (HB 593) by Panama City Republican Rep. Jay Trumbull.

Written By

Danny McAuliffe is a Tallahassee correspondent for Florida Politics. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as the editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau. He is a lifelong Floridian and indulges in swimming, hiking, running and memes when the news cycle permits. Reach him at dmcauliffe500@gmail.com.

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