New York Times writer, Crystal Yednak, and I spoke at length for her article published this past Sunday entitled, “Seeking to Assure Students’ Safety Outside School.” The article highlights stimulus-funded efforts in Chicago to create safer streets for students walking to and from school following a shocking number of kids killed and injured in recent years. Crystal did a great job with this piece and I encourage you to read it.
School Safety on a Roller Coaster
The Chicago Pubic Schools will be using $2 million from a $30 million federal stimulus grant to pay for community watches in 13 neighborhood areas. While I appreciate and applaud the motivation and interest of community members to better protect kids to and from school, my number one concern of any such effort is consistency and sustainability. This is especially the case with one-shot funding efforts, such as this one funded by federal stimulus dollars.
“It’s hard to get community engagement — period,” said Kenneth S. Trump, a school security consultant in Cleveland. “It’s especially hard to get community engagement consistently.”
We also have roller coaster public awareness, public policy, and public funding when it comes to school safety issues. Interest in school safety piques immediately after high-profile incidents, but our memories are short and our follow-through is often even shorter.
Legislate and Fund by Anecdote
The New York Times article summed up my experiences and concerns very accurately:
The lack of steady financing often derails school safety initiatives, Mr. Trump said. When a violent incident dominates the headlines, money often becomes available, but when the outrage quiets down, the money disappears. For example, he said, a family liaison program started last year by Cleveland schools with stimulus dollars already faces cuts.
“We legislate and fund by anecdote,” Mr. Trump said.
Yes, we legislate and fund by anecdote. Have a high-profile school shooting or other school violence tragedy which saturates the media? Politicians scramble, press conferences are held, and money flows. Three, five, or seven years down the road, when the emotion and cameras are gone, so is the money for the school safety efforts.
School Safety Leadership
A respected friend and colleague, a public policy university professor and criminology scholar, once summarized it best for me:
“You can tell me all you want that school safety is priority to you. But your true priorities are reflected by what you put in your budget to address the issue. Your real priorities are shown in your budget, not in your rhetoric.”
In yesterday’s post, I asked, “Who Will Bail Out School Safety?” School safety is in trouble and help is needed now in the form of more financial resources marked specifically for school safety. But the issue isn’t just the need for a bail out.
The real question is, “Why won’t our elected officials and education leaders stop the roller coaster public policy and funding for school safety?”
School safety is not only a money issue, it’s also a leadership issue. While many schools have improved school safety over the past decade, there is still a gap in true school leadership at all levels — federal, state, and local.
Who are the educators and legislators leading the fight for sustained school safety policy and funding in your school-community?
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