Indiana schools chief worries safety grants boost inadequate
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana's state schools superintendent says she's worried a $5 million a year increase in available school safety grants won't go far enough.
Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said Monday the $19 million annual funding included in the new two-year state budget will help school districts, but cast doubts on whether that was adequate to cover costs for safety equipment, school police officers and threat assessment.
"Yes, it is concern," she said. "It comes down to safety is not inexpensive and students deserve the expense of it. ... For us to pretend like it is not or try to rationalize minimal dollars doesn't seem like that it makes a whole lot of sense for a state."
McCormick spoke on the opening day of the state Department of Education's annual Indiana School Safety Specialist Academy, which the department said drew some 1,200 people from eight states.
She said Indiana school officials were learning how to improve security following shootings last year at a Noblesville middle school in which a boy wounded a classmate and teacher, and at a Richmond middle school where a boy shot out a door and at officers before killing himself.
Republican legislative leaders touted the funding increase included in the spending plan approved last month as helping schools improve school safety. GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb had proposed keeping the funding level at $14 million a year with his initial budget proposal submitted in January.
State officials awarded $14.3 million in grants to 388 schools around the state last year after lawmakers increased funding from the $9 million available in 2017.
Lawmakers approved program changes that lower the amount that of money smaller school districts and private schools must provide to qualify for the state grants. Schools or districts with fewer than 500 students will have to provide a 25 percent match for grants up to $35,000, with the scale sliding up to a 50 percent match for districts topping 15,000 students seeking grants up to $100,000.
Holcomb extoled those changes when he signed them into law last month, saying in a statement the package "provides access to more funding for safety equipment, facilitates partnerships with local law enforcement and requires threat assessments in our schools. This new law is key to ensuring our schools are better prepared."
The governor's office declined additional comment on Monday.
Some schools will still struggle to qualify for grants because of low funding increases in recent years, said McCormick, a Republican who is the former superintendent of the Yorktown school district near Muncie.
"If I'm a district that hasn't seen any new moneys in more than five years and I know I need safety measures put into place, it's tough," she said.
The Republican-dominated Legislature also approved allowing school districts to seek voter approval in referendums to increase property taxes for school security expenses. McCormick said those referendums could result in "haves and have nots" among districts depending on whether local voters will support the tax proposals.