School Climate & Safety

States’ Plans to Make School Safer Reflect Political Divides

By The Associated Press — September 07, 2022 4 min read
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott passes in front of a memorial outside Robb Elementary School to honor the victims killed in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, May 29, 2022. In the aftermath of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, governors around the country vowed to take steps to ensure their students would be kept safe. Months later, as students return to classrooms, money has begun to flow for school security upgrades, training and other new efforts to make classrooms safer.
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In the aftermath of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, governors around the country vowed to take steps to ensure their students would be kept safe.

Months later, as students return to classrooms, money has begun to flow for school security upgrades, training and other new efforts to make classrooms safer.

But the responses have often reflected political divisions: Many Republicans have emphasized school security spending, while Democrats have called for tighter gun control.

At every step, the actions have stirred debate over whether states are doing the right things to address the scourge of school shootings.

In a special legislative session in Arkansas last month, lawmakers set aside $50 million for a school safety fund proposed by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The rules for distributing the money haven’t been finalized, but Hutchinson has said he wants it to help implement recommendations from a school safety commission he reinstated following the May shooting in Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were killed.

The shooting “served as a reminder that the threat of violence in our schools has not abated,” Hutchinson said. “It continues to be real, and we have to act with a renewed sense of urgency to protect our children.”

Texas was among several other states that set aside money for school security. Gov. Greg Abbott and other top Republican leaders announced $105.5 million for school safety initiatives. Nearly half of that was slated for bullet-resistant shields for school police and $17.1 million was for districts to purchase panic-alert technology.

Other Republican governors who made money available for security upgrades include Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who announced $100 million for school security three days after the Uvalde shooting, and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, whose state is giving $2.6 million to increase training capacity and classes for school resource officers.

“While these are the latest measures we’re taking to ensure our children’s safety, I can assure you they will not be the last. I will work with anyone, even in the midst of a heated election cycle, to protect our students,” Kemp, who is running for reelection, said in June.

Some of the Republican governors who have moved aggressively to bolster school security have ruled out any kind of gun control measures.

Hutchinson had said there should be a conversation about raising the age to purchase an AR-15-style rifle — the type of weapon used in Uvalde — but didn’t pursue such a measure during the session. Abbott also has pushed back on calls for more gun control by families of the Uvalde shooting victims. Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt vowed to fight any firearms restrictions when he signed an executive order on training for law enforcement and risk assessment at schools.

In California, which already had some of the nation’s toughest gun laws, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a dozen more this legislative session and even took out ads in Texas newspapers criticizing the state’s stances on guns.

“We’re sick and tired of being on the defense in this movement,” Newsom said in July.

In New Jersey, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation last month requiring the state’s nearly 600 school districts to set up assessment teams aimed at stemming violence in schools. One of the bill’s sponsors recounted hearing of an Uvalde victim who pretended to have been killed in the attack to escape the shooter.

“Does anybody want to teach this — how to play dead?” Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, a Democrat, said during a hearing in June.

Despite the partisan divisions on gun violence, a group of governors says it will attempt to find common ground. A task force created by the National Governor Association following the Uvalde shooting will develop recommendations to stop mass shootings, with an emphasis on school safety. Hutchinson, a former chairman of the association, has said the task force will focus in part on how states might use money coming to them through the bipartisan gun control bill President Joe Biden signed in June.

Teachers, political opponents and others have raised questions about the scope and effectiveness of state leaders’ plans.

In Arkansas, Democratic lawmakers questioned whether districts taking the new grant program’s money would be required to have an armed presence on campus, one of the initial recommendations from the state’s school safety commission.

“It’s one thing to say ‘school safety,’ but that runs the gamut of so much,” said Democratic Sen. Linda Chesterfield, a retired educator and the only legislator to vote against the grant program. “What specifically do you have in mind, and what price is it going to cost? I guess I’m just tired of having to fly by the seat of my pants and not know a thing about what’s going to go into that (commission’s) report.”

In Ohio, teachers unions say one-time funding that’s for equipment like door locks and radio systems — but not ongoing needs like personnel — is helpful but not enough.

Schools need money for staffing, too, including for safety and mental health personnel, said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association.

“Ideally, you’re gonna use funding to ensure that every school that wants to hire well-trained school resource officers, as part of their school safety plan, can do that,” DiMauro said. “And from that perspective, you know, the $100 million isn’t going to solve the problem in the long run.”

School safety plans in several states as students return to school

ARKANSAS
After the Uvalde shooting, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson reinstated a school safety commission he formed after the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida. The panel is expected to issue its final recommendations in October. The Legislature in August approved setting aside $50 million for a school safety grant program. The grants will be based on the recommendations of the commission, and the rules for how the funds will be distributed are being crafted.
CALIFORNIA
In California, which already had some of the nation’s toughest gun laws, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a dozen more this legislative session. He also took out ads in Texas newspapers criticizing the state’s stances on guns. In July Newsom signed a gun control law that is patterned after a Texas anti-abortion law, allowing private citizens to sue in order to enforce the restrictions.
DELAWARE
Lawmakers included $10 million in the budget for a school safety fund that was established in 2018 but had not received money in the past two fiscal years. Lawmakers also approved bipartisan legislation expanding the allowable uses of the school safety fund to include lockdown drills, school threat assessments, prevention training and the hiring of law enforcement personnel. The bill was introduced in late April, before the Uvalde shooting, and initially proposed only to allow the hiring of constables with money from the fund. The legislation did not receive a committee hearing until after the Uvalde shooting, and Democratic Gov. John Carney has yet to sign the bill, which received final approval in late June.
FLORIDA
The Florida Legislature passed a bill in March that makes changes to the school safety law passed after a 2018 shooting at a Parkland high school that killed 17 people. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill June 7. The bill DeSantis signed directs the state Board of Education to adopt requirements for emergency drills, requires law enforcement to participate in active shooter school drills and requires school districts to certify 80% of school personnel complete youth mental health awareness training.
GEORGIA
Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, announced in June the state is giving $2.6 million to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center to increase training capacity and classes for school resource officers. He said the state will use $1 million in federal money to enhance school protection efforts, including training staff and school resource officers. Local and state law enforcement agencies will be able to compete for $4.5 million in grants for school safety, use-of-force and de-escalation training, and mental health needs. The state is also seeking $3 million in federal grants to increase training and improve school climate.
NEW JERSEY
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill in August that requires the state’s nearly 600 school districts to set up threat assessment teams aimed at stemming violence in schools. The bill requiring the assessments was introduced two days after the Uvalde shooting. The measure goes into effect in the 2023-2024 school year.
OHIO
Three days after the Uvalde shooting, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state would use $100 million in federal coronavirus relief funds for security upgrades in schools. In August, he announced more than 1,100 schools were being awarded $47 million of that money for upgrades such as security cameras, automatic door locks, visitor badging systems and exterior lighting. The remaining $53 million will be distributed to schools that apply in the future.
OKLAHOMA
Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order a month after the Uvalde shooting aimed at helping prepare schools and law enforcement for mass shootings. It directs law enforcement officers to complete active shooter training. It also calls for the Oklahoma School Security Institute to provide risk assessments to every public and private primary and secondary school in the state. The order also directs school districts to put in use by September the Rave Panic Button, a phone application that allows teachers and staff to immediately notify law enforcement and other staff members of an emergency.
PENNSYLVANIA
In Pennsylvania’s budget this year, lawmakers earmarked $200 million to address school safety and mental health, with $200,000 in base funding for each district to be split evenly between safety and mental health. The mental health funding is new to the budget this year. Funding was first established for the safety and security grants in 2018 after the shooting in Parkland. The money historically has been used for upgrading security — including adding cameras, safe entrances and personnel to school buildings.
TENNESSEE
Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, signed an executive order in June calling for more training and resources for school security. He has said his administration will boost resources for schools and law enforcement in the fall. Earlier this month, ahead of the new school year, Lee also encouraged parents to download a “SafeTN” app so they can confidentially report suspicious activity with schools.
TEXAS
Following the Uvalde shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott and other top Republican leaders announced the transfer of $105.5 million for school safety initiatives. Nearly half of that money was slated for bullet-resistant shields and $17.1 million was for districts to purchase silent panic-alert technology. The state also set aside $7 million for the state’s school safety center to conduct on-site assessments.

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