Today, more than 50 million students are enrolled in K-12 schools across the country. Far too many of these future leaders in business, academia, sports and government fall victim to crime and violent behavior in classrooms and on school grounds.
Consider the following statistics from the recent National Center for Educational Statistics/Bureau of Justice Statistics study, “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2007”:
• In 2005, 1.5 million students ages 12-18 were victims of non-fatal crimes at school — including more than 860,000 thefts and nearly 630,000 violent crimes.
• During the 2005-06 school year, 86 percent of public schools reported at least one violent crime, theft or other crime at school.
The security industry has shown an unwavering commitment to the safety of students, faculty and staff within our nation’s schools by developing and offering state-of-the-art school security technologies. The Security Industry Association (SIA) firmly believes that securing schools requires both prudent security assessments and a strong financial commitment from the federal government. This does not mean that federal agencies should impose “one-size-fits-all” security standards or requirements on local school districts, as that would only ignore each school’s unique security needs.
For these reasons, SIA has led the electronic security industry’s effort to secure full funding for the Secure Our Schools program administered by the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Created through legislation authored by Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) and former Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), the Secure Our Schools program has allocated $65 million in federal grant monies to help 2,400 schools nationwide make critical security school safety investments including access control and video surveillance systems. These funds can be used for a variety of security upgrades, including the acquisition of metal detectors and video surveillance systems.
Although current law authorizes $30 million in FY 2008 funding for the Secure our Schools program, congressional appropriators slashed that amount in half, undercutting the resources needed to support this valuable program. Moreover, President Bush’s FY 2009 budget request to Congress did not recommend any funding for this initiative.
SIA worked closely with Rep. Rothman to secure the support of nearly 30 of his House colleagues in recommending that the House Appropriations Committee provide $30 million in funding for this program in Fiscal Year 2009.
In their March 19, 2008 letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Ranking Member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) wrote: “We must give our nation’s schoolchildren the safe and secure environment they deserve, in which they can learn, prosper and not have to constantly look over their shoulders in fear. Despite tough fiscal times, the first obligation of government must be to keep the public, but especially our children, safe.”
Rep. Rothman also authorized legislation (H.R. 2353), the School Safety Enhancements Act, to strengthen the Secure Our Schools program. This legislation, endorsed by SIA, would increase the authorization level for this program to $50 million annually. The measure would also increase the federal share of the cost of security upgrades to 80 percent and lower the local responsibility to 20 percent. Last fall, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a modified version of H.R. 2353 as part of S. 2084, the School Safety and Law Enforcement Improvement Act of 2007. A notable difference from the House bill is that the Senate measure maintains the current 50 percent match requirement for Secure Our Schools grants.
Another important K-12 school safety initiative being aggressively monitored by SIA is the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. This Department of Education program provides grants to educational institutions to support their efforts to combat drug abuse and school violence. Unfortunately, this law limits the amount of funds a local school district may use for security-related expenses, such as acquiring and installing electronic locks and surveillance cameras.
SIA and its government relations committee may seek to repeal this funding cap when Congress considers legislation to reform or reauthorize the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act.
Promoting safe schools where students can learn is the responsibility of parents, teachers, community leaders and our industry. All of us should continue to express our support to policymakers about the value of the Secure Our Schools Program while calling for the repeal of regulations that restrict the ability of schools to make smart investments in school safety solutions.
Don Erickson is director of government relations for the Security Industry Association. For details on SIA’s legislative agenda, or to learn how to get involved in SIA’s government relations activities, contact Tom O’Connor at email@example.com or call 703-647-8483.