President Obama’s plan in response to the Sandy Hook shootings is heavy on gun control and short on funding for school safety, security, and emergency preparedness.
While the Obama Administration, DC politicians, special interest groups, and many media outlets have framed the President’s plan as a “school safety plan,” only three of the 15 pages in the plan released on January 16th actually directly addressed school safety, security, and emergency preparedness. Almost nine pages dealt with gun control and about two and one-half addressed mental health issues.
Gun control special interest groups and advocates seized upon the Sandy Hook as early as the day of the shootings to advance their agenda. Gun rights special groups followed shortly thereafter, spinning the shootings into a political defense against calls for gun control while proposing arming teachers and volunteers. The remainder of the national discussion has largely been on broad conversations about mental health and violence in the entertainment industries.
The failure of Obama and Congress to immediately address the needs of front-line school principals and safety officials who want to better secure their buildings and prepare for emergencies has been a national embarassment. Obama, with the help of Congress and the groundwork laid by their predecessors, in recent years eliminated the vast majority of federal grant programs for school safety, security, security equipment, school-based policing, and school emergency planning.
Obama’s proposal calls for $150 million for grants to hire school resource officers (SROs) and counselors, fund school security equipment, update safety plans, conduct threat assessments, and train crisis teams. It also calls for “one-time” grants of $30 million to states to help schools create and update emergency plans.
While the flexibility of how funds can be used is appropriate, the level of funding is a joke. The $30 million to states is a waste and money that should be used to restore the eliminated Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) program eliminated by Obama in 2010. Send that money directly to local school districts, not state education departments where it will be wasted for administrative costs, a conference here and there, and other bureaucratic uses.
The $150 million is a lot of money if it is in the bank account of an average American, but that amount is a pithy drop in the bucket for what is needed to better support the nation’s schools. At an average of $3 million per state, each state might be able to fund about 20 to 25 school police officers or counselors. That’s assuming hiring was the only way the funds were selected to be used.
Congress has no legs to stand on to claim that restoring and expanding funding for school safety would adversely impact the federal budget. The first priority of the federal government is the protection of its people. And according to some media reports, Congress packed their recent “fiscal cliff” budget deal with more than $200 billion in pork.
Our nation’s “leaders” have shamelessly politicized the Sandy Hook shootings and hijacked the concept of “school safety” to advance their own political agendas. They should restore and expand the programs they eliminated for school violence prevention, security, security equipment, school-based policing, and school emergency planning, while adding new programs such as state school safety specialist academies to build local capacity through ongoing training.
Politicians had, and have, an opportunity to do something meaningful to help principals better secure their schools and reduce parental anxiety. Will they continue to screw up the national response to a school shooting that left 20 kids and 6 adults dead?