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Here’s How the Big School Safety Bills in Congress Differ, and Why It Matters

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 12, 2018 3 min read
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Includes correction

In the wake of the mass shooting at a Florida high school last month, it’s clear how the GOP majorities in Congress have reacted: They want to focus on school-safety initiatives, not gun control.

That reaction has led to two pieces of legislation, one in the House and one in the Senate, being pushed to the fore by lawmakers. They share the same name, the Students, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act. The Trump administration supports the STOP legislation. Both have Republicans, Rep. John Rutherford of Florida and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, walking point. Both have bipartisan support. They would both authorize programs dealing with school safety at the Department of Justice. And both bills would authorize grant money for things like threat assessments, crisis intervention teams, and training for school personnel for responding to mental health crises.

But given all that, you might be wondering how the two bills differ. Let’s go through a few key areas where the bills aren’t the same.

1) Money: Hatch’s Senate bill would provide $75 million for the Secure Our Schools grant program through fiscal 2018, which ends Sept. 30, and $100 million annually through the rest of the reauthorization period, through fiscal 2028. Rutherford’s bill, meanwhile, would provide $50 million annually from fiscal 2019 through fiscal 2028.

2) How that money can be spent: The Senate bill specifically mentions that the new grant funding can be used for technology. That means Hatch’s legislation could fund things like panic buttons, surveillance systems, and classroom entrance controls. Rutherford’s bill doesn’t specify that the grant funds can pay for such pieces of technology, according to Jake Parker, the director of government relations for the Security Industry Association, which represents 800 security companies.

School leaders might be more supportive of Hatch’s bill given the greater flexibility it provides, Parker said: “They want schools to have the ability to pick from a variety of uses to pick what their need is.” Older schools, for example, might want new security infrastructure, he said, while newer schools might want spend the dollars on a school resource officer instead.

3) Evidence-based action: Hatch’s bill mentions “evidence” word a lot. There’s a requirement for “evidence-based training to prevent student violence against others.” There’s a permissible use of funds for “evidence-based technology and equipment to improve school security.” And “school threat assessment and crisis intervention teams” funded by the grants must be “evidence-based.”

So what does that mean? It might help you to put on your Every Student Succeeds Act hat here, because there’s some important overlap between how Hatch’s legislation handles the term and how ESSA does. Check out this Sarah D. Sparks ESSA story for more.

4) Local money required: Both bills would require districts to put up 25 percent in matching funds in order to be eligible for grant funds. However, the Senate bill allows that matching-fund requirement to be waived. It’s another way Hatch’s bill is more generous to schools on the fiscal front.

5) Bureaucratic shuffling: Rutherford’s bill would move the Secure Our Schools grant program out of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office at the Justice Department, and into the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which provides technical assistance to state and local officials. Hatch’s bill keeps the program in the COPS office.

We originally indicated that one key difference would be that Rutherford’s legislation would change the previous authorization to no longer restrict the grant program to public schools. In fact, Hatch’s legislation does the same.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California recently indicated that Rutherford’s bill would get a floor vote this week. The path forward for Hatch’s bill is less clear, in part because senators might want to focus on legislation dealing with background checks first before tackling changes to school-safety programs.

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