Promoting Local Solutions for School Safety
- Decisions about school safety are best handled at the local level.
- Federal programs currently allow local leaders to use funding for school safety efforts like resource officers, drug and violence prevention, crisis training, and mental health services.
- Lawmakers have introduced bills to create school safety grants, expand uses of education funding for counselors and physical security, and improve mental health programs.
Congress and President Trump are taking action on federal support for local school safety activities following the tragic shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Recent legislative proposals build on existing federal support by expanding eligible uses of funding and creating new grants. The measures reflect the local nature of school safety and would empower state and local leaders, as well as educators at the 98,000 public K-12 schools across the country, to address their safety needs.
Steps to Improve School Safety at the Local Level
What is School Safety?
Keeping schools safe is a continuous effort that involves both preventing and responding to threats. Some schools employ counselors. Others have school resource officers, a type of law enforcement officer who may also give safety lectures, mentor students, and resolve bullying and other problems. In 2015, the National Center on Education Statistics reported that 43 percent of schools had full- or part-time security during the 2013-2014 school year. NCES found that 93 percent of public schools controlled access with locked or monitored doors, and 80 percent used security cameras. Other measures in use included staff identification badges, random drug checks using dogs, and emergency drills.
Homeland security agencies in some states have helped schools devise emergency operations plans. After the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, Colorado set up a state-wide system for anonymously reporting threats, called Safe2Tell. Utah, Wyoming, and Michigan have similar systems, and other states are considering them.
current federal support
The Department of Justice runs several programs that could fund school safety. Schools and local law enforcement agencies could hire school resource officers using Community Oriented Policing Services grants. These totaled $98 million in fiscal year 2017. Funds are also available under the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program and the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, which was begun after the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, to fund research on school safety strategies.
States have discretion to use a portion of their federal K-12 education funding for school safety as well. Funds available under Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act can be used to train school personnel to help students with mental health problems. Student Support and Academic Enrichment Program funds, authorized in Title IV of ESEA and currently funded at $400 million, can go to things like drug and violence prevention programs and crisis training for employees, as well as non-safety or health activities. The National Activities for School Safety program, also under Title IV and currently funded at $68 million, includes a grant program called Project SERV, which covers school districts’ costs for counseling and teacher overtime pay after violent incidents.
Department of Homeland Security preparedness grants could be used for school security under certain conditions, and so could federal money for school construction and renovation.
Trump Administration Actions
After the February shooting in Parkland, President Trump stated his administration’s commitment to work with states and communities on school safety. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced a $1 million Project SERV grant to Broward County, Florida, to help students recover from the shooting. On February 22, President Trump and Vice President Pence hosted parents, students, and teachers to discuss student safety, and on March 11 the administration announced a school safety plan. The administration’s plan includes:
- Department of Justice training of local law enforcement for emergencies;
- Department of Homeland Security and other agency support for a state and local public awareness campaign;
- Reviews of federal education and health privacy laws to ensure schools, local law enforcement, and health professionals can work together; and
- A school safety commission, to make recommendations about security and violence prevention measures, violence in mass media and entertainment, repeal of Obama administration school discipline guidance, and how to increase access to mental health care, among other areas.
Though states and localities have primary responsibility for school safety, recently introduced legislation aims to improve how they can use federal resources to secure their schools.
The Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing School Violence Act of 2018 – S. 2495 – introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch, reauthorizes grants in the DOJ’s Secure Our Schools Program, which Congress last funded in 2011. Eligible grant activities include: evidence-based, violence prevention training for students, teachers, and law enforcement; forming school threat assessment and crisis intervention teams; installing locks and other physical security; and creating anonymous tip reporting systems. The STOP School Violence Act would authorize $1.075 billion over 11 years – $75 million for fiscal year 2018 and $100 million per year after that. The Trump administration supports the bill’s approach. A similar bill has been introduced in the House to authorize $50 million annually over the next 10 years for a school security grant program at DOJ.
Senator Lamar Alexander introduced the School Safety and Mental Health Services Improvement Act, S. 2513. The bill broadens the eligible uses of existing K-12 education funding, most recently authorized in 2015 under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Under the bill, schools could use Title II funding to hire and develop counselors. The bill also clarifies that schools may use their funding under Title IV for physical safety equipment such as alarms, cameras, and duress systems. It also reauthorizes the Public Health Service Act’s Children and Violence program, which states and localities use to develop programs for crisis training and assessments of mental health and substance abuse. The bill requires the administration to share best practices for law enforcement and mental health professionals to work together to help at-risk youth.
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