The Details on New Federal School Security Grants

School security

Congress has provided significant New funding for school security. Here’s what it means for the security industry.

[Update: The Department of Justice (DOJ) released details on the $25 million in grant assistance that is being distributed as part of the School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP). Applications are due July 30, 2018. SIA has issued an information page on how to apply for these school security grants.]

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 included legislation known as the STOP School Violence Act, representing the primary Congressional response so far to the tragic attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, and authorizing nearly $1 billion for matching grant programs through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) through 2028.

For the security industry the most significant result of the legislation is that among other provisions it restores federal grant assistance specifically for school security equipment and technology, by providing a 10-year reauthorization for what had previously been known as Secure Our Schools (SOS) grants, with significantly expanded funding and allowable uses. No funding had been available since fiscal 2011. The new law restores and more than doubles funding for this program, and SIA applauded the passage of legislation that included this funding.

As SIA members working with local school districts know, the primary challenge in implementing needed security measures in K-12 schools is not a lack of prioritization by school administrators, it’s the resources available. As educators and communities across the country are moving forward to address security deficiencies in their schools, funding from Congress will help close those gaps faster.

Enactment a Major Priority:

Restoring federal assistance has been a top policy priority for SIA, which coordinated support among education, law enforcement and parent groups for addressing the lack of modern, effective security infrastructure in many of our nation’s schools – particularly in the aftermath of the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, where the lack of several basic security features played an enabling role.

SIA led allied organizations in supporting the creation of the Congressional School Safety Caucus in 2015, and efforts by members of the caucus to restore this grant assistance through legislation like H.R. 1636, the School Safety Act and numerous appropriations requests for the program led by Representatives Rick Larsen, D-Wash., Susan Brooks, R-Ind., Mike Coffman, R-Colo and others.

How the Legislation Developed:

While responding to the attack in Florida was a catalyst for passage, the authors of the STOP School Violence Act had begun work on the legislation well before that tragic event.

As originally introduced in the House in January, H.R. 4909 would have reconfigured the grant program to focus solely on violence prevention training and anonymous threat reporting systems, while S. 2495 included a broader array of grant uses that included security technology and equipment – a key difference. Facility security is an essential component of any comprehensive school safety strategy and can be critical when other violence prevention efforts fail.

SIA worked among like-minded education, law enforcement and parent groups to gather support for the Senate approach, which would provide school districts with maximum flexibility to meet varied needs, including security infrastructure improvements. Nearly 40 organizations officially endorsed the bill when it was introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch, R- Utah.

Ultimately, the House amended its bill to also include facility security measures as it passed that chamber. The final version enacted in the Consolidated Appropriations Act represents a compromise between the House and Senate approaches, standing up two different programs under a $100 million annual authorization. And, unlike many federal programs that are authorized but not funded, full funding is likely at least in the near term because appropriators offset the additional cost mostly by redirecting funds from the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (CSSI), a controversial research program that was already built into the budget baseline.

Funding Split Between Two Programs:

The first is a new program under the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) that will provide grants for training school personnel and students in violence prevention and mental health response, as well as threat assessment programs and anonymous threat reporting systems. This program is provided with a $50 million this year and authorization for $67 million per year through 2028.

The second is what was formerly known as the Secure Our Schools (SOS) program, administered by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). It is provided with $25 million in funding this year and an authorization for $33 million per year through 2028, which doubles the average annual appropriation for the program provided 2002-2011. These grants are provided for locks and other security measures as well as coordination with local law enforcement. Additionally, it emphasizes use for “acquisition and installation of technology for expedited notification of local law enforcement during an emergency,” referencing duress alarm systems.

What Qualifies:

Understandably, Congress wanted to ensure accountability in the program to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent to support programs, technology and equipment that are effective. The “evidence-based” requirement is defined differently for training programs and other social interventions versus technology and equipment.

For the latter, grant applicants can rely upon the significant and growing body of work on school security best practices to validate technology and equipment needs. These have been identified in part through public commissions and task forces throughout the country established to provide recommendations, formulate guidelines and set standards for school security. Examples include the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission and the Indiana School Safety Guidelines, but 12 states so far have established guidelines or set standards and many others are working to do the same. Best practices have also been developed through collaboration between public and private sector security experts, such as the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS), which was co-founded by SIA to supporting the nationwide use of best practices to ensure the most effective use of limited resources for security.

Importantly, the definition requires security solutions to be code-compliant, which helps ensure professional installation and use of products that are appropriate for the school setting – addressing, for example, use of improvised barricade devices that violate fire codes, which are completely unnecessary with proper door hardware providing lockdown capability.

Under the COPS program, past projects provide a good indication of what the new funding will support – emergency communications systems, video surveillance, campus access and classroom entrance control technology, fortified entrances, law enforcement training and other measures. It also prioritizes funding for public schools, although private schools could benefit through subgrants to other types of organizations.

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