DOJ awards more than $70M in grant funding for school safety
- The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday announced more than $70 million in grant funding through the STOP School Violence Act, which provides support for school security, student and faculty training, and to aid law enforcement officers and first responders during school violence incidents.
- More than 220 jurisdictions across the country will receive awards through one of two entities — the Office of Justice Program’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) — that will provide new reporting technology, threat deterrent measures, and training and education, according to the release. The funding can also support new or existing crisis intervention teams.
- The department will also invest $1 million toward research on the factors that lead to mass shootings.
Devastating school shooting, and mass shooting incidents at large, have rocked cities nationwide, and in the aftermath of a February massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla., advocates and lawmakers have responded with a wave of prevention efforts. These latest grants come less than a week after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced $200,000 in funding for the National Association of School Resource Officers, which will help the organization expand and train more personnel. This money is an addition to school safety funding looped into an appropriations bill that averted a government shutdown and funded the U.S. Department of Education for fiscal 2019.
The BJA prevention and mental health training program will help areas more effectively handle mental health crises, and among those getting funds are the Santa Fe Independent School District in Texas — the site of a deadly school shooting in May — and Florida’s Broward County, in which the Parkland high school is located. But while there were hundreds of recipients of these awards, many places were still missing from the lists. Teachers have been asking for more resources for months.
School districts across the country are struggling to find the funds to pay for even the most basic of supplies. Meanwhile, as state and local funding continues to be lacking, federal funding isn’t making up for it. School leaders have criticized the fiscal 2019 appropriations — including those specifically allocated for school safety — as inadequate, especially given how important education and school safety are.
Meanwhile, security companies are saying more money needs to be spent on the hardening of schools through increased surveillance technology and other equipment, claiming these types of measures — sometimes rather than softer measures, like mental health resources and a more welcoming school environment — are what’s going to reduce school violence. That persuasion, in part, has caused Congress to draft laws and proposals to fund these resources, and state and local entities are coming up with their own money to help. However, no independent research says this hardware actually helps to save lives, or that other tactics can’t also do good.
Having appropriate mental health resources is a must for any school district. But experts say those resources are especially important in helping school leaders identify at-risk students and assisting them in getting the help they need so they don’t resort to a violent act later on. With more instructional materials and training opportunities, teachers are also more likely to know what to do in the event of a school shooting or other school violence incident. It’s especially important that law enforcement, first responders and school officials collaborate and communicate about safety procedures and protocol. This could include more trainings, drills or safety walks at the beginning of a school year.
There’s no clear end to solving the problem or reaching the point where there’s “enough” resources in schools to justify a halt to funding more safety efforts. But it is clear that school safety needs to remain a priority for the school leaders asking for funding and the lawmakers allocating it.