Budget would boost school safety grants, police in schools

28 June 2022

— The North Carolina House and Senate’s proposed budget for next year includes millions more toward school safety grants and law enforcement officers in schools—infusions that come in the wake of lat month’s deadly mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

Some measures would affect all North Carolina schools, while some funding would go toward boosting law enforcement in lower-income schools and high schools with more students struggling academically.

Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, said the General Assembly’s ultimate goal is to have a school resource officer in every school.

“This was a very important initiative, and we hear all across the state how schools are dealing with some of the issues that relate to school safety,” Lambeth said, “and we want to do as much as we can to respond to some of their needs.”

The state has about 1,500 school resource officers, mostly in middle schools and high schools. The state funds about one-third of them.

Critics have expressed concern that school resource officers correlate with more arrests of students of color and often do not keep schools safer. They argue school resource offices have failed to stop school shootings such as the one in Texas and another in Parkland, Fla., in 2018, and have pushed for spending on support personnel with training in health and psychology instead. The state doesn’t have a nurse, social worker or psychologist in every school.

Concern for school safety

School security has been top of mind in the months since the Uvalde, Texas shooting at Robb Elementary School, where 21 people died and 18 others were injured.

The May 24 attack is the latest among years of mass school shootings that have occurred for decades in the United States and is no longer the latest mass shooting in the nation, after just one month.

Currently, schools are required to provide training to staff who work directly with students on crises and mental health, though it’s unclear how much of that training focuses on preventing active shooters. Each school must conduct at least one active shooter drill every year, as required by law.

Research shows mental health has been a stressor for less than half of school shooters, but most school shooters were bullied in school, were seeking revenge and had given clues to others that they would attack.

The proposals

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed budget — compiled before the Robb Elementary School shooting — called for $20 million more for school safety grants. The grants would “support students in crisis and provide school safety and mental health training.”

State budget

The budget proposal Republican lawmakers unveiled Tuesday provides $32 million more than originally planned last fall toward a competitive school safety grant program. That program will be in its second year, and the proposed budget is now $41.7 million. The grants are “to support students in crisis, school safety training, and safety equipment in schools.”

The budget also expands funding for school resource officers — provided by local law enforcement agencies but partly funded by the state — by at least $41 million.

That comes from two items:

  • The budget would nearly double the state’s school resource officer-specific program from $18 million planned for next year to $33 million. This is a matching grant program, and costs would increase in part because the state would provide $4 for every $1 in non-state funds a school spends toward a school resource officer, in low-wealth school systems. Otherwise, the match would continue to be $2 in state funds for every $1 in non-state funds.
  • On top of that, the budget would increase funding at qualifying high schools, for students at risk of academic failure, by $26 million, specifically to cover the cost of school resource officers’ average salaries.

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes, said he believe the funding would help rural areas recruit school resource officers, especially for elementary schools.

School resource officers are rarer in elementary schools. In Wake County, the school system has only four, while having one in every middle school and high school.

The budget also includes a nonmonetary requirement that every public school system and charter school report to lawmakers certain safety measures they have in place. The one-time survey, due in November and finalized in February, would ask schools what their threat assessment policies are, what threats they’ve identified and what action they took in response to those threats. Many school systems do not have threat assessment teams that anyone other than law enforcement participate in.

In last year’s budget, the state created the school safety grant, as well as a grant — using federal COVID-19 stimulus dollars — for surveillance technology that would monitor students’ activities on school-issued devices or Internet.

The proposed budget must still pass each chamber and be signed by Cooper. The House and Senate are expected to pass the budget, contained in House Bill 103, in the coming days. It’s unclear whether Cooper will sign it. In addition to requesting more for school safety, Cooper wanted higher teacher salaries and more education funding in general.

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