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Gun bill expands school safety spending beyond security

Michael Macagnone, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — Mill Creek Township School District in Pennsylvania plans to upgrade its surveillance cameras, radios and a door monitoring system with a $500,000 federal grant, one of hundreds awarded across the country over the past four years as part of a $1 billion program Congress passed to address school violence.

But Superintendent Ian Roberts said the grant won’t cover upgrades like security vestibules on its more than 40 entrances at 10 schools, and the district can’t afford that immediately. “From an infrastructure standpoint, there’s still some things that are lacking in this and other districts,” Roberts said.

Congress now appears poised to spend even more to bolster physical security at local schools in response to a recent wave of mass shootings, although Democrats and some public health experts have doubted the effectiveness of those measures in stopping active shooters.

A bipartisan Senate bill unveiled Tuesday includes $300 million for school security grants, including $100 million for a program that can be used to “harden” schools meant to make them more difficult to target. The Senate is expected to have a procedural vote on the bill Thursday.

But this time, the legislation also includes much larger investments in the kind of community mental health resources that experts said may help prevent mass shootings, such as the one last month in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed.

Experts like Odis Johnson, executive director at the Johns Hopkins Center for Safe and Healthy Schools, said research has shown that even as school security spending has increased, so have school shootings.

 

“This whole idea that we can only focus on the school, and think that a school can do it all, is just not going to stop active shooters,” Johnson said. “There’s not enough Plexiglas, law enforcement, barricades, locks, bars on doors, none of that is going to stop an active shooter from gaining entry into a school.”

‘Harden’ schools

Republicans such as Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the lead negotiator for his party on the latest Senate bill, have argued that Congress must include funds to increase physical security at schools. In his floor speech Tuesday announcing the bill text, he referred to reports that the shooter in Uvalde entered through an unlocked door at the school.

“That’s an obvious vulnerability,” Cornyn said in a floor speech. “Schools need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario, which means evaluating physical security measures, reviewing current protocol, adopting best practices.”

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