The recent violence against schools is shaking communities to the core, and state and local governments are responding. In recent months, there has been an influx in grants and other financial support programs providing schools with the opportunity to enhance and fund school safety initiatives. Communities are taking a harder look at how to improve processes, procedures, and even the technology being used to keep students safe.
In February, the tragic attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida pushed the conversation about school safety into the national consciousness. The brave survivors of the attack stood up and demanded change, and across the country, state legislatures are reevaluating budgets to ensure that schools are funded. The proposed budget passed by the Florida Senate includes provisions for better mental health resources, but its main focus is on increasing “safe school” programs. According to the Sun-Sentinel, the senators developed a $400 million safety initiative as part of the annual budget. This includes funds to hire school resource officers, craft safety plans, and investment in crucial technology, such as panic buttons.
It’s not easy for states to find the resources to fund comprehensive safety programs amidst already tight budgets. In communities where legislators aren’t prioritizing these tools, education leaders in public school systems still have options. The Justice Department will offer grants for panic buttons on the federal level, enabling schools to apply for up to $200,000 in federal funds to buy panic buttons that would alert law enforcement of an emergency faster.
This program is included in the latest spending bill, and was written by Illinois Congressman Mike Bost. This shows a national prioritization of on-campus safety, and it may be a good time to look into additional funding programs.
For school administrators and other leaders in education, it might seem daunting to petition legislatures for a safety and security budget or look into a federal grant program. However, these tools can be life-saving in an emergency, and it’s worth considering all funding options when crafting a safety plan for your community. Given the variety of dangers facing schools today, it’s important to explore all potential options for funding -safety initiative.
Resources to Fund School Safety Initiatives
There are a few resources educators pushing for the means to improve school safety can explore, no matter where in the nation. These programs take into account the various obstacles schools face to keep students safe, and could provide the funding you need to invest in the appropriate security solutions.
Student Advocacy Groups
In recent years, Student Safety Advocacy Groups have become an important force in addressing school safety. Many of these organizations already exist, all with the shared mission of improving security in schools. In Connecticut, state representatives formed a bipartisan working group to focus on improving school security and safety in their state.
The senators in the Connecticut have pledged to listen to students, parents, and educators in across the state. State Representative JP Sredzinski met with people from local communities to hear their concerns first hand. “Having participated in a community conversation hosted by students at Masuk High School on National Walk Out Day, I heard firsthand the growing unease regarding the safety of students and faculty in our schools,” Sredzinski told the Monroe Courier. “This is not acceptable. I intend for this working group of experts and education stakeholders to explore a vast array of options for making progress in ensuring our learning environments are safe and productive.”
Educators have a unique opportunity to reach out to their local legislators and encourage them to push for funding. It’s more important than ever for representatives to listen to their constituents and take action on their behalf regarding school safety.
Increased Funding Availability
Several school safety grants are opening up across the country, giving school districts across the nation a chance to seek funds. The number of these programs has begun to increase in response to the recent acts of violence in schools.
Several state-level grant programs exist which include the Department of Homeland Security. These grants are currently being put in state budgets across the United States, not just in Florida. For example, according to the Daily Sentinel, legislatures in Colorado approved one-time additional state funding to better support safety programs in April. The state budget, which will go into effect in July and was passed unanimously, puts $35 million of the annual budget toward grant programs for the state’s 178 school districts. This money isn’t meant for resource officers, and is dedicated exclusively toward locks and other safety equipment.Federal-level grants
The Department of Justice’s Grant Program should allow school’s across the country to seek up to $200,000 in panic button technology and software. The program is an investment in faster emergency response for schools. “The technology will ensure students and teachers will have a more immediate method of notifying law enforcement and first responders in case of a medical emergency, an active school shooter incident or natural disaster,” Illinois Representative Brad Schneider in Illinois said in a plea for panic button installation back in March.
In some states, there are Trusts that may be able to allocate funds toward safety initiatives. For example, in Alabama the state has a $41 million dollar grant program though the Education Trust Fund. It may not be a viable possibility for every state, but educators should look into the resources available in their area.
Considering School Safety Enhancement Options
There are some school districts that are finding that the availability of new funds for school safety can be applied to newer technologies to not only help prevent violent incidents, but also speed up response to emergencies. Here are a few different technologies that could be covered by the new availability of funds:1. Security Resources
- Bullet-proof items including whiteboards, desks, windows, and doors
- Door jams
- Cameras, clear backpacks, etc.
- Security Resource Officers
2. Emergency Response Technology
- Panic Buttons - Hard-wired vs. Mobile App
Stationary and wearable wireless panic buttons are commonly issued to teachers. These key rings, watches and pendants can be effective if the teacher remembers to wear them and keep them fully-charged, but they often come at a high expense. Even amidst tight budgets, no school should have to choose which teachers or employees are offered these technology. Also, many educators may not realize that panic button solutions connect through an alarm company, like a stationary panic button would. While eventually contacting 9-1-1, the rerouting of the call and the fact that these tools can't communicate the nature of the emergency will again take additional time for first responders to reach the emergency area.
Unlike their counterparts, mobile panic button apps help with the starting point of an emergency. Some smartphone apps can be used to keep children safe indoors and outdoors. Teachers can activate the Panic Button with the press of a button and rather than just alert 9-1-1 to an emergency, teachers have a choice of selecting which emergency service they need (fire, medical, active shooter or other event requiring police assistance.)
- Mapping Systems
Many states require mapping software for school facility profiles be included in school safety plans. The issue is that very few require these plans to be stored in digital format and be accessible to first responders. When there is an emergency at a school, nobody has time to access a separate database and look for plans to pull down, and nobody ever has paper copies at the scene. This makes the ability for a system to collect, store, and provide location data to 9-1-1 dispatchers even more important.
Why Preparing for the Starting Point of an Emergency Matters
There are a variety of safety challenges schools face today, and it’s important to prepare for all emergency situations. It’s impossible to predict an emergency event, but schools can prepare by investing in the appropriate technology. These tools can be essential for contacting first responders at the start of an emergency, whether it’s an active shooter, medical emergency, or natural disaster. Time is essential to emergency response, and contacting first response directly with the nature of the emergency can be critical.
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