Education Dept Shifts School Safety Money from Schools to Researchers

Posted by on October 20, 2010

Over 18% of one state’s grant under the Obama Administration’s pilot “Safe and Supportive Schools Grants” will go to researchers instead of directly to schools, according to a news release from the university.


Federal School Safety Funds Dumped Into Research and Data Collection

The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health announcement on Tuesday (October 19th) said it will receive $2.4 million from the U.S. Department of Education over the next four years as a part of a $13.2 million Safe and Supportive Schools grant awarded to the Maryland Department of Education.

The researchers will reportedly, “…support research, data collection and school safety training at Maryland high schools with the greatest safety needs.”

The news release says the project builds on a 10-year collaboration between the academic institution and state education department:

“The collaboration has already provided training in evidence-based prevention programs to over 800 Maryland schools and launched two federally funded randomized, controlled research trials. This new project illustrates the collaboration’s commitment to conducting sound research, as we were very excited to build a randomized trial into the study design.”


Radical Federal School Safety Policy and Funding Shift

The Safe and Supportive Schools Grant Program is being piloted by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools as a part of the Department’s radical shift in federal policy and funding for school safety. Downplaying violence, the Department is redefining school safety instead on bullying, “incivility” and school climate.

The Obama Administration and Congress eliminated $295 million in state formula grants for the Safe and Drug Free Schools Program effective July 1, 2010.  These formula grants had been in place for roughly a decade and provided money directly to schools to address prevention, intervention, security, and preparedness needs they identified at the local level.

Instead, the U.S. Department of Education and select state education departments will now create school safety definitions, scores, and surveys which local schools will be forced to follow as the states and feds identify their needs for them.  What the data actually will be, and how the feds and states will define a “school safety score” to slap upon local schools, remains to be seen. 

Ironically, state education agencies and local schools seem to be asking no questions, but instead blindly signing on in hopes of chasing federal dollars.


My Take:  Back to the Future…A Return to Pre-Columbine Federal School Safety Policy and Funding

The Obama Administration’s radical shift in federal school safety policy and funding skews the focus from a comprehensive and balanced approach to school safety to a distorted over-emphasis on bullying and school climate.

The Education Department’s elimination of state formula grants for school safety, followed by its new DC-controlled emphasis on school climate survey data collection, is redirecting funds away from schools and into the accounts of researchers, academicians, and data collectors.  It also creates an imbalanced approach to school safety where the Department has knowingly — and proudly — downplayed and/or excluded crime and violence from its definition of school safety while focusing on much more poorly defined, lofty concepts of “bullying, incivility, and school climate.”

The resulting environment feels increasingly similar to the pre-Columbine era when federal school safety policy and funding also were largely driven by academic interests and theories, and funding for prevention programs.  It was not until after Columbine that it became more commonly accepted that school security, policing, and emergency preparedness needed to be added to the research, prevention, and intervention equation to create a more balanced and comprehensive approach to school safety.

The Administration of President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Kevin Jennings (Assistant Secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools) is taking a dramatic step back and off the path of best practices for federal school safety policy and funding.  Ironically, the Administration appears to have largely redefined federal school safety policy and funding with minimal Congressional input and oversight. 

As I indicated in my testimony to Congress back in 2007 (House Education and Labor Committee, and House Homeland Security Committee), schools do not need more federal research, think tanks, centers, institutes, or models.  They do not need more data collection and lectures on models from Ivory Tower academicians.  They need the dollars directly to them to address needs they, not a bunch of researchers or bureaucrats, have identified to improve safety in their schools.

Sadly, it appears the education associations and organizations are too blind, too afraid, and/or too clueless to see what is going on and to step up to prevent the train from derailing — at least until the next Columbine-like crisis or worse occurs.  Then Congress, the Administration, and the state bureaucrats and politicians will again be scratching their heads and asking, “How did this happen again?”

Ken Trump

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