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U.S. Senate Set to Consider School Safety Bill

By Alyson Klein — April 01, 2013 3 min read
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School districts would be able to tap into grants to help upgrade their safety infrastructure, under a measure set for consideration in the U.S. Senate. The legislation, which also includes gun control measures, represents Congress’ first big legislative response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December.

The legislation would authorize grants for states and local governments that want to upgrade their security infrastructure by doing things like buying lights, fences, new classroom locks, and new doors, as well as surveillance equipment. Schools could also use the money to train teachers and administrators on security, and to work with local law enforcement officials. Districts could also use the funds to set up hotlines or tiplines for “the reporting of potentially dangerous students and situations.”

The bill authorizes $40 million for the grants, which would flow through the U.S. Department of Justice. Local governments would have to provide a 50 percent match for the federal resources.

This isn’t a completely brand new idea. The language is based on a program that was first created by Congress in 1968 as part of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. (Check out the school safety part of the bill for yourself here.)

The bill would also create a National Center for Campus Public Safety, which would provide research and training to help keep universities secure.

The legislation has a bipartisan pair of lawmakers behind it: U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, which should be a big help, politically. And it has a ton of fans in the education community, including the National Education Association, the National School Boards Association, the American Association of School Administrators, and both associations representing principals, elementary and secondary.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union told my colleague, Nirvi Shah of Rules for Engagement fame, that they oppose the legislation, in part because the group has big concerns about funding surveillance equipment within schools that could invade student privacy. The organization, however, supports federal money that would improve school security in other ways, such as adding stronger windows and doors. (For more on the ACLU’s views, check out this story.)

And it’s unclear what GOP lawmakers keeping a close watch on any and all new programs that cost money will make of the provision, particularly once the bill goes to the House of Representatives. (One positive sign for fans of the bill: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, considered one of the most conservative members in the Senate said it “makes sense” to spend money on keeping students safe at school, according to this story.)

Interestingly, the legislation doesn’t include new resources for mental health services in schools, which were a key piece of the Obama administration’s response to Sandy Hook. The administration wanted more resources for schools to do positive behavior support interventions, new money to help teachers spot mental illness early, plus funding to train more school guidance counselors and social workers. And some members of Congress are clearly interested in bolstering mental health too&mdash Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has introduced a bill in this area, for example.

Of course, the school safety portion of the bill is hardly the part that’s garnering headlines. The legislation would also beef up background checks for those who want to purchase guns, and it would aim to crack down on gun trafficking .

It does not, however, include a ban on assault weapons, which is something the Obama administration has been pushing. That could be added through an amendment, but it would likely be a pretty tough vote.

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