Funding requests expected in Arkansas school safety report

"Everything boils down to money" said a member of the Arkansas School Safety Commission which is preparing a preliminary report for Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The governor revitalized the commission after the shootings in Uvalde, Texas that left 21 people dead. Their preliminary report is due Monday.

From recommending new positions to the installation of security measures on campuses, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said the frustrating part of a lot of the recommendations was that many of them require money.

“If we’re ever going to be in a position to try and push for more positions or involvement to try and better get these positive outcomes that we’re recommending I can’t think of a better time to get it done than now, that we become a little bit more forceful in our approach as far as what we want the legislature to do,” Helder said during the commission's meeting earlier this week. “I don’t think we’re ever going to be in a better position than we are right now. Obviously I’m referring to Uvalde and the terrible tragedy there.”

Commission Chair Cheryl May detailed large allocations of money for school safety included in new gun legislation signed into law in June entitled the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

“In this new federal legislation there’s going to be a big boost in school safety funding and it’s also going to be an impact on school mental health,” May said.

The legislation allocates $1 billion in additional funding for Title IV-A, which relates to the Every Student Succeeds Act, according to May.

“To kind of put this in a little bit of a different perspective for us, currently Title IV is funded at $1.2 billion so what this will do is it will increase Title IV to $2.2 billion, which is a substantial increase,” May said.

Lawmakers return to Little Rock on Aug. 8 to consider how to spend a $1.6 billion surplus. Hutchinson said in June he was open to using some of the funds for school safety initiatives. Right now lawmakers have only committed to discussing tax relief in the special session.

Furthermore, the legislation gives an additional $50 million to spend on the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program, which supports after school and summer programs, and adds $300 million in funding for two grant programs related to addressing school violence, according to May.

The draft report calls for all school districts to implement “comprehensive school safety strategies” and maintain accountability to ensure measures are implemented.

May said even though Arkansas has passed numerous school safety laws since the commission’s 2018 report, accountability was necessary to ensure those laws are being followed.

“If we do not insist on this accountability, the lives of our students are at risk,” read May.

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