Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced new legislation this week to improve school safety. The School Safety and Mental Health Service Improvement Act would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to expand the allowable uses of funds under two of the law’s titles in order to address the issue. If the bill is passed, Title IV, Part A of ESEA would allow schools to use federal funds to pay for new school safety technology, including “physical security” measures like passcode systems, alarms, and security cameras. Title IV and Title II of the law would also permit funds to be used for educator professional development and school counseling to help staff recognize and intervene with troubled students.
Alexander told a meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers Tuesday that he also hopes to increase funding for the two programs to help them fulfill the additional need (in contrast, President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 and 2019 budget proposals have suggested eliminating funding for both portions of the law). In a letter sent to appropriators Thursday, Senate Democrats expressed support for “the highest possible funding” for Title IVA to help school climate and safety. “While funding for school safety cannot replace meaningful, strong gun safety reforms,” they write, “we must answer the call of parents, educators, and students to provide schools and educators with the resources they need to meet these challenges and keep their students safe and healthy.”
In addition, the legislation would direct the Secretary of Education to establish a School Safety and Violence Prevention National Technical Assistance Center and would reauthorize a cooperative program housed at the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to help children “struggling with violence.”
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives says it will vote next week on the STOP School Violence Act, which would authorize $50 million annually for school safety improvements, including training teachers and students in violence prevention and creating anonymous reporting systems for threats.
But many Democrats in Congress remain skeptical of these measures. Some Democratic staff have told the press, anonymously, that they believe Titles II and IV of ESEA already permit the use of funds for such activities and that the real problem is the amount of funding, as well as federal gun control. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) said that he does not think that physical security is the solution to the issue of school shootings. “Anybody whose only solution to the school shooting epidemic is to make our schools fortresses doesn’t understand the root of this problem,” he told the New York Times.
In addition to the legislation, school safety will soon be the subject of a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee next week on the Parkland school shooting and legislative proposals that could boost school safety. The hearing, titled “See Something, Say Something: Oversight of the Parkland Shooting and Legislative Proposals to Improve School Safety,” will be held next Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. ET.
Resources:Andrew Ujifusa, “Sen. Lamar Alexander Backs Changes to ESSA to Improve School Safety,” Education Week: Politics K-12, March 6, 2018. Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Erica L. Green, “With Gun Control Nearing a Dead End, G.O.P. Turns to ‘School Safety,’” New York Times, March 7, 2018.