School safety a focus of federal and state efforts

As the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Florida school shooting approaches this week, the Trump Administration announced the formation of a federal school safety task force chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. 

In addition, Congress is working to fund school safety improvements, Kansas lawmakers have introduced a bill that will add $5 million for state school safety efforts and the State Board of Education will discuss school safety at its March 13 and 14 meeting. 

March 14 is the one-month anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people, most of them students. Following the Feb. 14 tragedy, students and other advocates have called for a renewed push to prevent school shootings. 

The White House on Monday announced the formation of the Federal Commission on School Safety. The commission will examine successful school safety initiatives nationwide and make recommendations for policies at the state and district level. The administration said it will support “rigorous firearms safety training” for some teachers and support more thorough background checks of potential gun owners. 

DeVos called the effort “a pragmatic plan to dramatically increase school safety.” 

The Trump Administration is also pushing for the enactment of the bipartisan STOP School Violence Act, which would reauthorize and amend the Secure Our Schools (SOS) grants to states to implement “proven, evidence-based” programs to identify risk factors and reduce school violence.  

Also in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a school safety safety hearing at 8:30 a.m. Central Time Wednesday that will include a U.S. Secret Service Agency presentation on emergency preparedness and response and a review of legislation such as the SOS program that would restore funding for school safety. Meanwhile, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce is examining funding for the federal Title IV Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants to states to increase school safety. That program, which sent almost $3 million to Kansas schools in 2017, was slated to be eliminated in Trump’s Fiscal Year 2019 Department of Education Budget request to Congress. 

In Kansas, House GOP leaders have introduced HB 2773, the Kansas Safe and Secure Schools Act, which would require Kansas schools to adopt a safety plan based on statewide standards. 

School districts could also tap into a $5 million grant program for infrastructure and training under the proposed Kansas Safe and Secure Schools Act.  

House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, called the plan “a comprehensive approach to making schools safer for our kids and coordinating with schools and local law enforcement to improve school security infrastructure.” 

In response to the proposal, KASB noted that schools have long been working on safety and security plans and in recent years, many schools have dedicated portions of their school bond issues for enhanced security and FEMA-approved safe rooms.  

And while support and guidance from the state is appreciated, KASB said one-size does not always fit all school districts. In addition, KASB said student safety and well-being would be improved by the hiring of more school counselors and social workers, as proposed by the governor’s budget and State Board of Education’s Kansans Can goals.

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