All schools getting state construction funds should serve in emergencies, Florida lawmaker says

Workers scour a Wesley Chapel High School classroom after Hurricane Irma evacuees left the campus, which was one of several in Pasco County used as an emergency shelter. [Times | 2017]
Workers scour a Wesley Chapel High School classroom after Hurricane Irma evacuees left the campus, which was one of several in Pasco County used as an emergency shelter. [Times | 2017]
Published

Why weren't charter schools used as evacuation shelters during Hurricane Irma?

It's a question that resonated in the storm's aftermath, as district schools across Florida remained closed to end shelter operations and clean up before welcoming students back to classes.

Lawmakers discussed the issue in committees. And now one of them wants to take steps to make sure that the charters, which the Legislature has defined clearly as public schools, are available when needed — particularly since new law now provides them with more tax-generated construction funding than ever before.

Rep. Janet Cruz, the House Democrats' leader from Tampa, has filed legislation that would require any school that receives public education capital outlay (PECO) funding to be at emergency officials' disposal for shelter use "or, if such facility does not meet the public shelter design criteria in the Florida Building Code, in any other capacity as may be necessary."

One of the key points raised about using charter schools was that they are not required to be built to hurricane shelter standards.

So far, there is not a Senate companion for the measure. But lawmakers have made clear that hurricane preparedness is a key concern of theirs for the 2018 session. Keep an eye on this one.

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