Senate Seals Coffin on Federal School Emergency Plan Grants

Posted by on March 3, 2011

The only federal grant program dedicated for K-12 school emergency preparedness planning was eliminated Wednesday when the U.S. Senate approved the Continuing Resolution (CR) with $4 billion in cuts which orginated in the House of Representatives.

The Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) grant program was housed under the line item entitled, “Safe Schools and Citizenship Education” under the Labor, HHS, and Education section and reflected $32 million in cuts under the CR.

The Rationale for the Cuts: Pure Politics

President Obama, Education Secretary Duncan, and Kevin Jennings (Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug Free Schools) originally proposed eliminating the school emergency planning grant program from FY2012 budget when Obama released his budget a week ago.  

Kevin Jennings gave no rationale for the cut when I asked him why the Department was eliminating the program, which was one of the few successful school safety programs run over the years by the Department of Education. My take is that Jennings has a tunnel-vision, one-track focus on bullying, LGBT, and political agenda issues, and no real interest or commitment to the security and emergency preparedness components of a comprehensive approach to school safety.  If it is not bullying or LGBT related, it’s not on his radar screen.

House Republicans, in order to get a two-week Continuing Resolution (CR) for the current FY 2011 budget year, pulled programs Obama proposed cutting from his FY2012 program,  and put those to serve as the $4 billion in cuts from the current CR bill. This maneuver forced the Democrats to approved the CR since they could not go against eliminating in FY2011 what Obama had proposed eliminating in FY2012.  It also allowed the Republicans to save face in their campaign for massive cuts to federal spending. 

Who Cares About School Emergency Preparedness?  Answer: Not President Obama, Secretary Duncan, Kevin Jennings, or Congress

The top problem with the elimination of this school emergency planning grant is that it wipes out the only dedicated federal fund for K-12 emergency preparedness.  REMS was successful, of interest and need to districts as evident by the number of applications each year, and had no prior claims of ineffectiveness. (Perhaps this is why Jennings took a pass instead of providing a rationale for the cut?)

Another pathetic reality is that this was a politically expedient solution for both parties to get through a two week Continuing Resolution (CR) while they fight the broader budget battle.  It really had nothing to do with school emergency planning in the eyes of Congress. Just politics. 

Finally, there does not appear to have been any committee hearings held to discuss or debate in detail this specific program or others which ended up being cut.  It served a broader political need and they all went along with it.  My bet is that most of those elected officials in the House and Senate have no clue that they even eliminated the only dedicated K-12 school emergency planning program.

Welcome to our federal political and legislative process. If you are a parent or educator, this should really give you a lot of confidence in our federal “leaders’ as to how much they care about school emergency preparedness (NOT!).

Cut wasteful federal spending?  Absolutely.  But cut the right programs.  And the only dedicated K-12 school emergency planning program in the federal budget is NOT the right program to cut.

Once again, politics trumps school safety.

Ken Trump

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