Alaska enrolls students in Florida-based virtual school

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration has launched a new virtual school for Alaska students in partnership with a Florida program, garnering some criticism from educators adjusting their lessons to online teaching amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The state of Alaska signed a $525,000 contract through February 2021 with the Florida Virtual School, which had enrolled about 80 Alaska students by Friday, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported.

“The ‘fourth-quarter solution’ that is suggested through the purchase of this Florida version of distance delivery is seen as an insult to most, if not all, teachers in the state who have been supporting their students,” Juneau Schools Superintendent Bridget Weiss said.

The Florida Virtual School was recommended to Dunleavy’s education commissioner by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The Florida program has previously worked with Alaska schools, Alaska Education Commissioner Michael Johnson said, adding that the new contract is intended to expand options for students stuck at home over measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

School buildings in Alaska are closed until at least May 1, and educators across the state are providing lessons remotely.

“It’s really been inspiring to see how teachers have responded and are filling in these gaps,” he said. “And so it’s not intended to say that somebody’s not doing what they should. It’s just trying to put as many options for students on the table as possible and, where it works and where it’s helpful, then it’s there.”

Educators across the state are concerned and have a lot of questions after finding out about the contract the same day students were already allowed to register, said Tim Parker, president of the teachers union, NEA-Alaska, which represents more than 12,000 Alaska public school teachers and support staff.

Weiss has agreed, citing her disappointment with the lack of transparency from the state.

“We’re in a crisis, and teachers and educators are meeting the needs of the students that they have,” Parker added. “I’m not sure having a teacher in Florida is going to improve the situation at this point in time.”

The Florida program was created in 1997 and offers more than 190 online courses to more than 200,000 students across all 50 states. The school told NPR in March that it hopes to double its enrollment.

Alaska’s contract with the program includes allowing K-12 students to register for online classes for free for the final part of the school year scheduled to end in May. The courses will be taught by Florida-based teachers certified in that state. The Florida staff is also contracted to train up to 50 Alaska teachers to move their own classes online and help the state transition to Alaska-based educators teaching the classes.

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Man exposes himself after hacking into online Florida class

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A man exposed himself to students after hacking into an online class being held by a public school in Florida, school officials said Thursday.

The man gained unauthorized access to the Zoom video conferencing instructional lesson on Wednesday and exposed himself to the class, Orange County Public Schools said in a letter to teachers.

The letter encouraged teachers to use the “waiting room” function in Zoom, which allows the host to control when a participant joins a meeting.

The letter said the case was being handled by law enforcement.

Orange County Public School officials didn’t provide further details, but said that Zoom wasn’t a district-supported application for teachers video conferencing needs.

Most of Florida’s 2.7 million public school students, like students across the U.S., have shifted to online learning since schools were closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

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Amid coronavirus threat, Florida lawmakers OK $93.2B budget

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Amid the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak, Florida lawmakers have brought their 2020 session to a close after approving a $93.2 billion budget that is on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.

But already, talk swirled through the Capitol about a special session to address any shortfalls in money allocated to contain the spreading the virus.

“This is a brand new adversary is going to require a new plan of battle,” said Rep. Evan Jenne.

The budget includes $300 million in extra reserves to help address the economic hardship wrought by the outbreak. The budget also includes $25.2 million requested by the governor to directly combat the virus.

Before the Senate adjourned, chamber President quipped: “We’re going to social distance sine die.”

Sine die is the Latin phrase legislative bodies use to describe adjournment.

The final day of the session began bizarrely, with House members streaming into their Speaker’s office Thursday morning for coronavirus screening. They were required to answer questions about their whereabouts in the last weeks, including whether they’ve traveled oversees, been on a cruise ship or attended large gatherings.

They also looked into facial scanner that took their temperature.

“It’s the only test I’ve taken since grad school that I’ve been nervous about. I wanted a low number,” said Rep. Michael Grant, a Republican from Charlotte County, which has recorded at least one COVID-19 infection.

“I thought the questions were absurd,” countered Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, whose county has recorded at least 14 confirmed cases. “I should have been asked if I’ve been to Broward County,” he said, which has the highest concentration of infections in the state. (He had not, he said.)

“I didn’t want to be here. We should not be gathering in groups of more than 10.”

Lawmakers showing symptoms associated with COVID-19 were asked to stay away.

In the Senate, members were given the option of recording themselves present during quorum attendance, then escape to their offices or another location to monitor proceedings before returning to the floor to vote.

Legislative leaders declined to conduct the final day of session virtually, arguing that the state constitution mandates an in-person meeting to pass the state budget.

The Legislature took on some significant issues during its session — which was extended by six days to address last-minute changes to budget calculations because of the virus. There were worries over a downturn in tax revenues because of a drastic virus-triggered slowdown in tourism, consumer spending and other money-generating activities.

In the waning days of the session, budget writers had to rethink spending on big-ticket budget items such as teachers pay, which DeSantis had sought.

In the end, the governor only got $500 million of the $900 million in new spending he requested to boost the minimum pay for new teachers and merit-based bonuses for veteran educators.

As part of the budget it passed Thursday, lawmakers approved 3% raises for state workers, gave $100 million to preserve Florida Forever, the state’s land conservation program, and allocated an additional $25 million for mental health assistance at schools, bringing the total to $100 million.

The mental health money is meant to help children weather the challenges they confront, including thoughts of suicide and doing harm to others — a priority in the wake of the 2018 massacre that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Even as some lawmakers think they’ll have to come later this year to adjust the budget as state revenue plummets because of faltering tourism, Sen. Rob Bradley, his chamber’s chief budget writer, assured his colleagues the state has healthy reserves.

“We have robust reserves,” Bradley said. “I’m quite comfortable that we are in a solid, secure financial position as a state to pay our bills and to deal with any circumstances that may be presented to us.”

Bradley also said the state has twice as much money available for unemployment assistance than it had when it weathered the Great Recession in 2008.

Still, there was a sense of gloom about the future of the state’s finances.

“I think we would be kidding ourselves if we thought our work was anywhere close to being done,” said Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer.

“I think we all know it’s extremely likely that we will have to reconvene in the coming months to deal with the dramatic effects of the coronavirus.”

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Florida governor sounds last call for bars and nightclubs

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all of Florida’s bars and nightclubs closed for 30 days starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, upending St. Patrick’s Day revelries as the state acts more aggressively to contain a new strain of coronavirus that has infected more than 170 people in Florida, killing five.

He also said he’s asking Florida’s university board of governors to require students to return home for remote learning for the rest of the spring semester.

DeSantis announced the moves after a 77-year-old man in a Broward County assisted living facility died of coronavirus and four students at the University of Florida tested positive. He said other patients were being tested and monitored to help prevent casualties from spiraling upward. He did not identify the facility where the man died.

A sixth Floridian died of the virus in California, officials announced last week.

The governor also announced that restaurants must limit their number of patrons to maintain safe distances between diners. Under the governor’s order, restaurants can only operate at half capacity.

Up until now, DeSantis has mostly refrained from issuing mandates and allowed localities to use their own judgment on how to limit public activities.

But with federal officials on Monday issuing stricter guidelines on public gatherings, the governor said it was time to act. He said his order gives communities that are hardest hit more flexibility.

On Tuesday, officials in Key West shut down three tourist attractions — Southernmost Point, Smathers Beach and the sunset celebration at Mallory Square — to the public as a way of combating spread of the virus.

Many beaches in Florida, including Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale Beach and Hollywood Beach, have closed to spring break crowds. But some have stayed open: Beaches in Clearwater, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, were packed with spring breakers on Monday afternoon.

The City of Miami tweeted that anti-social is the new social. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week, told media outlets he plans to order all restaurants in the city to close their dining rooms and only offer takeout and delivery services. A final decision was expected on Tuesday, with the bans going into effect Wednesday morning.

The decisions came after President Donald Trump asked Americans on Monday to limit travel, avoid crowds of 10 or more people and to stay out of restaurants for the next 15 days in an effort to slow the impact of the global pandemic in America.

DeSantis said he took the actions on Tuesday after reviewing the federal guidelines.

Florida also unveiled a new online dashboard that provides the public with a clearer picture of where the virus has hit. The COVID-19 surveillance dashboard provides a color-coded map that shows the intensity of infections across the state. It showed 142 positive cases and five deaths as of Tuesday morning.

Florida — along with Arizona and Illinois — decided to proceed with Tuesday’s presidential primary election. Ohio and Louisiana delayed their primaries, which had been set for Tuesday.

“Based on the best information that we have, we are confident that voters in Florida can safely and securely go to the polls and cast their ballots,” Secretary of State Laurel Lee said Monday.

Almost 2 million Floridians voted early.

The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people, but older adults and those with existing health problems can develop severe complications, including pneumonia. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Some communities, including Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, had already ordered restaurants to close early to help with crowd control.


This story has been corrected. The governor’s closure order applies to bars and nightclubs, not bars and restaurants.


Calvan reported from Tallahassee. Associated Press reporter Brendan Farrington also contributed from Tallahassee.


The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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Florida to still provide children meals as schools close

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida announced Saturday that it has asked the federal government for permission to continue serving free and reduced-cost breakfasts and lunches to 2 million low-income children while schools are closed because of the new coronavirus.

The announcement came shortly after the state’s known and confirmed infection total jumped by more than a third and now exceeds 60 as testing expands and results become available.

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said she expects the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve the state’s program by Sunday. Florida’s 4,500 public schools will be closed through at least March 30.

The state’s 67 countywide school districts will each decide whether to participate in the program. Because of recommendations that people not congregate in large groups, some districts might choose to let children pick up their meals at school and take them home or may even drop meals off near their homes using buses. Districts that can might give students up to a week’s worth of food at once to minimize contact.

Fried said it is important that the program continue while schools are closed because “for many (children), these meals are the only meals they can count on.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. The virus has infected more than 145,000 people worldwide. More than 5,400 have died.

About a third of Florida’s 64 known cases of the new coronavirus have been in Broward County, according to the state health department, while neighboring Miami-Dade County has seen eight cases including Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. He tested positive after being in the same room with the Brazilian president’s press secretary, who test positive after also being in close proximity to President Donald Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Suarez has shown no symptoms Two people have died in Florida.

There have been about 500 negative test results statewide and more than 350 people are being monitored.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has banned all nursing home visits in Broward, is asking other homes to screen visitors and is activating the National Guard in certain parts of the state. The state is also purchasing 625,000 testing kits. Most in-person court proceedings have been suspended for two weeks, although judges can choose to conduct some by video or phone where legally allowed.

Publix, the state’s largest grocery store chain, announced that it would close its stores daily at 8 p.m. — three hours early for most. The company said that would give its employees more time to fully clean stores and restock shelves.

Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens have all announced they will be closed starting Monday. Disney said it will keep its hotels and its Disney Springs shopping area open, however. All major cruise ship lines have also suspended operations.

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Coronovirus siphons money from Florida teachers, tax breaks

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — With uncertainty over how the outbreak of COVID-19 could affect the state’s economy, Florida lawmakers scaled back tax breaks and reduced spending on teacher raises to help fatten the state’s emergency reserves by $300 million as the virus continued to threaten public health and key industries.

Legislative negotiators announced Saturday a budget deal that would fund 3% across-the-board raises for state employees, send $100 million to the state’s land conservation program and give the state’s lowest-paid teachers a significant pay boost.

With budget negotiations over, a finally tally of the Legislature’s spending priorities still needs to be finalized into a final document that will be delivered to both chambers for approval in the coming days.

When the number crunching is over, lawmakers are expected to send Gov. Ron DeSantis a spending plan of roughly $92 billion.

“I wanted to thank the Legislature for powering through,” DeSantis said Saturday at a news conference focused on the state’s response to the virus outbreak.

While lawmakers agreed to $500 million toward teacher pay raises — $400 million to boost the minimum teacher salary to $47,500 and $100 million for other pay raises — the money was much less than the $900 million that DeSantis had requested when he proclaimed last fall that it would be the “Year of the Teacher.”

But as the session neared its end, the conservation was more about the coronavirus, as Florida lawmakers joined their fellow Floridians and other Americans in worrying about the viral outbreak.

As tourism and other economic sectors become harder hit by travel restrictions and as people retrench from everyday activities, concern is growing that a downturn in the state’s economy could cause government revenues to fall dramatically.

“We are prepared when it comes to dealing with any potential revenue downturns because of what’s happening with the coronavirus,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, his chamber’s lead budget negotiator.

As a result, lawmakers moved to create a $300 million financial buffer. To free up the money, lawmakers siphoned money from key proposals.

“We tried to find opportunities throughout our state budget,” said Rep. Travis Cummings, who led the state House in budget conferences.

Both sides had seemed willing to allocate $600 million toward teacher raises. But worry over the spreading coronavirus prompted lawmakers to rethink the amount, as well as earlier sums for a tax break package that was initially many times more than the $47.7 million eventually agreed upon.

The slimmed-down tax package provides tax “holidays” for a variety of consumer spending, including for school supplies and hurricane preparedness.

The Florida Education Association, the union that represents the state’s teachers, said the additional money for teacher pay was a good start but called for further funding.

“The allocation of $500 million for teacher salary increases is welcomed and appreciated,” said Fedrick Ingram, the association’s president. “We recognize this is an important down payment in what must be a multi-year investment, and it was accomplished while facing significant challenges.”

Lawmakers probably wouldn’t dispute they faced last-minute challenges while delivering on key promises.

“We’ve talked about this being the ‘Year of the Teacher,’ and it is the ‘Year of the Teacher,'” Bradley said. “Promise made, promise kept,”

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Passenger on New York-Palm Beach flight tests positive

MIAMI (AP) — A passenger on a JetBlue flight that arrived at Palm Beach International Airport tested positive for COVID-19 and other passengers were advised to monitor their health according to Centers for Disease Control guidelines, authorities said Thursday.

Rescue crews were notified at 8:40 p.m. Wednesday of a medical incident on board the flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to Palm Beach Fire Capt. Albert Borroto. The plane arrived at 8:53 p.m. and passengers sat on the tarmac until about 10:45 p.m.

The passengers eventually deplaned in a “limited containment area,” separate from the airport’s main terminals, Borroto said in an email.

County health workers assessed the ill passenger and spoke with everyone else on the flight, advising them to follow CDC guidance and contact health officials with any medical concerns. Airport officials then sterilized the containment area, Borroto said.

Scott Rodman, a passenger on Flight 253, told WPTV that the man was wearing a mask and gloves.

“The person across the way from me was taken to the back of the plane,” Rodman said.

On Florida’s West Coast, school officials in Tampa closed Farnell Middle School through Friday after a person who is regularly on campus had recent contact with someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Hillsborough County Public Schools announced on its website.

School officials say that person currently has no symptoms and the school is being closed “out of an abundance of caution” so the everything can be deep cleaned.

Late Wednesday and early Thursday, the Florida Department of Health announced six more cases of COVID-19. They included a 61-year-old male in Broward County whose travel-related case is associated with the Port Everglades cruise ship terminal. Two more — a 65-year-old Broward man and a 57-year old Lee County man, are being investigated to see if they are travel-related.

The other three latest cases include a 63-year-old New York resident who is currently in St. John’s County after visiting Florida for Bike Week, a 56-year-old Miami-Dade County resident who had recently traveled and a 70-year-old Broward County resident who attended a recent Emergency Medical Services conference in Tampa.

“We are not seeing community spread, but this is something we are watching very very carefully,” Florida Surgeon Gen. Scott Rivkees said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, but it can cause more severe illness including pneumonia in older adults and people with existing health problems. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus within weeks.

The agency recommends that anyone experiencing symptoms after attending Daytona Beach’s Bike Week, which is continuing through March 15, or an EMS conference in Tampa from March 4-6 to contact their local health department and self-isolate for 14 days.

There are currently 26 cases of Florida residents diagnosed in the state, five other Florida residents are self-isolating out of state after being diagnosed elsewhere, the health department said. Also, a 22-year-old California woman who traveled to Italy with her sister and is self-isolating with her in Tampa.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said 10 of the positive cases — including one of the fatalities, a 71-year-old man from Santa Rosa County — involved people returning from a cruise on the Nile River in Egypt.

Meanwhile, public universities across Florida — which have some of the country’s largest enrollments — will move to remote instruction effective Monday. That step is intended to minimize health and safety risks to students and staff, especially as they prepare to return from spring break.

On Wednesday, the governor also placed limits on who can visit Florida’s nursing homes and other assisted living facilities in an attempt to protect the state’s sizable and vulnerable elderly population from the new coronavirus.

The governor’s executive order prohibits anyone who recently arrived from a foreign country from visiting nursing and assisted care facilities. DeSantis noted that most of the Florida infections from the virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, stemmed from international travel.

“These are important efforts to mitigate the risk to our most vulnerable population to COVID-19, which is our elderly population,” DeSantis said at an afternoon news conference at the state Capitol in Tallahassee.

As a further precaution, the governor also urged elections officials to move any polling places that might be located at nursing homes or other facilities that house or care for the elderly.

Florida holds its presidential primary on Tuesday.


Calvan reported from Tallahassee.

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Coronavirus stokes worry over Florida economy, state budget

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The spread of the new coronavirus has stoked worries about Florida’s economy, prompting lawmakers to rethink spending on big-ticket items as negotiations continue over the state budget.

Legislative leaders voiced concerns this week that the virus could drag down the state’s economy — and take some of the budget proposal with it, including teachers pay.

House Speaker Jose Oliva raised the specter of a recession, even if obliquely, while addressing his chamber Monday.

Later, Senate President Bill Galvano recommended a more cautious approach.

“I don’t want to overreact and then just doing a massive U-turn because of potential impacts of this virus,” Galvano said in an impromptu meeting with reporters Monday. That same day, Gov. Ron DeSantis proclaimed Florida in a state of emergency and the legislative session was temporarily disrupted by concerns about a possible virus contamination in the House chambers.

Possibly on the line were an ambitious plan to boost the minimum pay of thousands of teachers statewide, as well as a tax package and more than $500 million in tax refunds for corporations.

For now, agreements already reached on $370 million in affordable housing funds and 3% across-the-board raises for state workers appeared safe.

Worries about a possible virus-induced recession are likely exaggerated, according to professor Sean Snaith, the director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Forecasting.

“It’s probably overblown in terms of the threat of a recession,” Snaith said. But he acknowledged he understands why legislators may be taking a more cautious approach. “They don’t want to get caught with a shortfall.”

Tourism dollars have a big effect on the state’s economy and on government revenues. In 2017, tourism spending amounted to $88.6 billion and generated $11.4 billion in state and local tax revenues, according to a study by Rockport Analytics.

Some conferences, concerts and other large events have already been scrapped. Advisories about taking trips on cruise ships and avoiding long-haul flights could keep visitors away.

“Three months from now people are going to be looking back on this and maybe realizing that it wasn’t really this black swan event that was going to push us into a recession,” he said, “but more of an ugly duckling.”

The Legislature had been scheduled to adjourn by Friday but will return next week to finalize a budget to send to the governor for his signature.

Going into budget negotiations, there was a $1.4 billion divide between proposals presented by the House and Senate. In the end, the state budget is expected to weigh in at about $91-$92 billion.

When he unveiled his budget proposal last fall, DeSantis requested $600 million to boost the minimum salary for teachers to $47,500, and an additional $300 million for bonuses.

Lawmakers balked at granting the governor’s bonus plan. During budget negotiations over the weekend they appeared to settle on $500 million for teacher raises.

Other spending agreements had already been reached, including $100 million for the Florida Forever land conservation program and $650 million for Everglades restoration and water quality improvement projects.

State workers will be getting 3% across-the-board raises, and housing advocates cheered when lawmakers included $370 million for affordable housing programs.

Last week, the Florida House passed a $193 million tax cut package benefiting businesses and corporations as well as give consumers a sales tax holiday for school and hurricane supplies. But that amount could now be scaled back.

While the governor had asked for $25 million from lawmakers to respond to the spreading virus, Galvano said it might take much more state resources — suggesting that he’d be willing to set aside $200 million in reserves, should more resources be required to address the virus.

“We are looking to see if there’s some way we can better prepare, maybe rethink some of these expenditures that are on there way down the pike. It could mean a different number for teacher pay,” Galvano said.

Andrew Spar, the vice president of the Florida Education Association, joined the governor in urging urged lawmakers to not turn back.

“We hope and expect that lawmakers will continue with the commitment that they’ve made,” Spar said. “There are other things that lawmakers they can look at to find the revenue they need to cover the coronavirus.”

At his news conference Monday, DeSantis said teacher pay was not the place to look for cuts.

“At the end of the day, it’s not a huge part of a $91 billion budget,” the governor said. “We can absolutely walk and chew gum at the same time.”


Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington contributed to this report.


The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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Florida lawmakers head into budget talks to bridge $1.4B gap

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Negotiators from the Florida House and Senate worked through the weekend to begin reconciling a $1.4 billion chasm in their respective spending plans, but on Saturday appeared to be making substantial progress in narrowing that gap.

Going into the weekend, key policy decisions about boosting teacher salaries and giving state employee raises appeared to have been resolved, even if specific numbers have yet to be finalized.

“As the offers roll out, I think you’ll see that there is very little daylight between the two sides,” Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley told reporters.

State workers will be getting 3% across-the-board raises, while teachers also will be getting a boost in pay, as part of a plan by Gov. Ron DeSantis to raise the minimum starting salary of new teachers to at least $47,500 a year.

House and Senate budget negotiators appeared to be settling on $500 million to bump up pay for the state’s lowest-paid teachers.

The governor had requested $600 million to raise minimum salaries, and another $300 million for a teacher bonus program.

The teachers union welcomed the increase in education spending but had balked at the bonus programming, saying the money should be for across-the-board raises — an approach favored by key budget negotiators.

“We’re not going to do bonuses. It’s going to be money in the pockets of teachers in the form of salaries. The specific numbers we’re going to continue to work on in conference,” Bradley said.

The House had allocated $650 million, while the Senate proposed $500 million.

Lawmakers still have dozens of bills to consider, some politically vexing, but the budget stands as the biggest hurdle in the Legislature’s race to adjourn.

With the end of the session looming, lawmakers were under pressure to finalize a budget they can send to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature. The Florida Legislature was scheduled to adjourn by Friday, but key officials acknowledged that the work in hammering out a budget might extend beyond the 60 days they are usually accorded.

There was some urgency to some budget items, including a $25 million request from the governor to help the state respond to a new form of coronavirus that has killed thousands worldwide and has begun to strike fear in the United States.

On Friday, state health officials announced that two Floridians had died.

“We feel confident the House and Senate, and our leadership, will meet that to properly care for Floridians and protect them,” said Rep. Travis Cummings, the lead negotiator for the House.

In a key victory for housing advocates, lawmakers also included $370 million for an affordable housing trust fund, which pays for state and local housing programs.

In recent years, money from the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund had been routinely swept into the state’s general fund.

Rep. Kionne L. McGhee, the House Democratic Leader, hailed the funding as an important step “to address the lack of affordable housing in our state.”

His office said it was the first time since 2007 that the Legislature did not siphon away any of the Sadowski money.

The Sadowski Coalition, a nonpartisan group of 32 statewide organizations, expressed hope that it wold end the funding sweeps.

“We are relieved to have the Sadowski program funding put to use for Florida’s lower-paid workforce, seniors and special needs populations living on fixed incomes,” said Jaimie Ross, president of the Florida Housing Coalition.

Although key agreements have already been reached, budget negotiators acknowledged that many other differences remain.

Those differences include funding for Florida Forever, the state’s land preservation program.

The program has historically gotten about $300 million in annual funding. In recent years, however, Florida Forever has received much less. In fact, the House set aside $20 million — far below the $125 million the Senate favored and lower than the $100 million DeSantis requested.

In all, the House had proposed a $91.4 billion spending plan — slightly less than the governor’s request but lower than the Senate proposal of $92.8 billion.


This story has corrected the headline to say billion, not million.

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Guard accidentally shoots worker at Florida private school

WESTON, Fla. (AP) — A security guard accidentally shot a maintenance worker in the eye at a Florida private school, leading to a felony charge, authorities said.

Security guard Julian Suarez, 55, was charged with illegally possessing a firearm at a school following Thursday’s shooting at the Sagemont School near Fort Lauderdale.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that Suarez wasn’t supposed to be carrying a gun at the school. They said he and the maintenance worker were in the school parking lot Thursday about noon when the gun accidentally fired, striking the maintenance worker.

Suarez drove the worker to a hospital, where deputies were notified. The sheriff’s office says the worker was in stable condition Friday. His name was not released.

Assistant public defender Hector Romero said at Suarez’s bail hearing Friday that Suarez was carrying the gun because he had another shift at a private school where he is supposed to be armed.

“It was a stupid mistake,” Romero said. Suarez remained jailed Friday. Bail was set at $7,500.

Sagemont officials did not return a call seeking comment.

After a 2018 shooting at a Florida high school left 17 dead, the Legislature passed a law requiring all public schools to have an armed police officer, guard or other employee on campus at all times. Private schools are not covered by that law, but many have armed security.

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