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School Climate & Safety

Fact Check: Trump Tells NRA He’s Approved $2 Billion for School Safety

By Evie Blad — May 04, 2018 3 min read
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President Donald Trump spoke to members of the National Rifle Association Friday at its first national meeting since the February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., which set off new debates about school safety and gun laws.

In a sprawling speech that covered topics ranging from immigration to athletes’ protests during the National Anthem, Trump re-upped calls to arm teachers and “harden schools” with increased security. And he may have misstated how much his administration has secured for school safety efforts.

“I recently signed legislation that includes more than $2 billion to improve school safety, including the funding for training and metal detectors and security and mental health,” the president told the Dallas crowd at the organization’s National Leadership Forum. “Mental health is a big one.”

But it’s unclear where he got the $2 billion figure.

Trump appeared to be referring to an omnibus spending bill he signed into law March 23. That bill included the STOP School Violence Act, a bill championed by families of victims from school shootings in Parkland and Newtown, Conn., that provides about $1 billion over 10 years. It funds physical school safety measures, like locks and metal detectors, and it also provides funds for training in identifying and responding to possible safety threats in schools.

But what about the other $1 billion Trump mentioned? It’s not clear what he was referring to.

He may be referring to funding included in the bill for Title IV, a block grant for districts that can fund a diverse set of needs from school safety to ed-tech. The bill provided $1.1 billion for those grants, a big increase from its current funding level of $400 million. Trump’s proposed budget sought to eliminate Title IV, but Congress increased it as it negotiated the spending bill.

While Title IV funds can be used for safety efforts, it’s unlikely they will all be targeted for such purposes. Everyone from technology directors to community school coordinators have their eyes on that expanded pot of money.

Since the Parkland shooting, in which 17 people died after a former student entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with an AR-15, Trump has called for schools to train and arm some teachers. That echoed calls he made during the campaign to end gun-free zones in schools.

Student activists from Parkland have rejected those plans and made a national push for tougher gun laws.

Several states have since considered plans to allow teachers and school staff to carry firearms with mixed responses. Florida’s compromise school safety bill included a voluntary plan to train and arm some school staff alongside new gun restrictions designed to keep firearms out of the hands of people deemed dangerous by law enforcement. The Broward County district, which includes Parkland, notably rejected the option to arm staff.

There was another curious mention about this issue in Trump’s speech. “All of us agree that we must harden certain schools,” he told the NRA crowd, referring to efforts to build up physical safety measures as a deterrent to would-be intruders. The use of the word “certain” is interesting because some have feared new safety efforts, including the increased presence of law enforcement in schools, will disproportionately affect students of color. It’s unclear what Trump meant by using the word, though it may have just been a verbal flourish.

Photo: Matt Rourke-- AP

Related reading about Parkland school shooting:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.