Monday, March 12, 2018

Federal government focuses on school safety bills instead of gun restrictions

While state legislatures have mostly focused on gun-control legislation in response to recent school shootings, the federal government is leaning more toward school-safety initiatives. President Trump walked back his recent support for raising the minimum age for gun purchases after pushback from the National Rifle Association, and called on Congress today to pass legislation aimed at violence prevention and intervention in schools.

The Students, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act has been introduced in the Senate and the House. Both versions have bipartisan support, would authorize Department of Justice school safety programs, and would authorize grant money for school safety initiatives, but there are some differences in the House and Senate versions, Andrew Ujifusa reports for Education Week.

The House bill, introduced by Republican John Rutherford of Florida, would provide $50 million annually from fiscal years 2019 through 2028. The Senate bill, introduced by Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, would provide $75 million for the Secure Our Schools grant program through the end of fiscal year 2018, which ends on Sept. 30, then $100 million annually for fiscal years 2019 through 2028.

The bills differ on how the grant money could be spent. The Senate bill specifies that the grants can be used for technology such as panic buttons or surveillance systems, while the House bill doesn't mention technology as a possible use for funding. Hatch's bill also puts a greater emphasis on seeking evidence-based solutions to award grant money. Both bills would require school districts to put up 25 percent in matching funds to be eligible for grants, but the Senate bill allows the fund-matching requirement to be waived. And finally, "Rutherford's bill would move the Secure Our Schools grant program out of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office at the Justice Department, and into the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which provides technical assistance to state and local officials. Hatch's bill keeps the program in the COPS office," Ujifusa reports.

In addition to urging Congress to pass the STOP legislation, Trump is also calling on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to form and chair a school safety task force to look at successful safety measures already in place in schools and districts around the country. "The administration will also review federal privacy laws to determine if there are ways to improve coordination between education, healthcare, and law enforcement sectors. And it will support a so-called 'Fix NICS' bill that would seek to ensure more thorough records in the existing background check system for gun purchases," Evie Blad reports for Education Week.

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