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Capitolwire: New school safety program, funding for it, signed into law.

Posted 5 months ago by Lori Kelley

Capitolwire: New school safety program, funding for it, signed into law.

By Robert Swift
Staff Writer
Capitolwire

HARRISBURG (June 22)- School districts can apply for state funding from a smorgasbord of broad safety-related initiatives as per legislation adopted by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf Friday

The establishment of a beefed up school safety program is contained in Senate Bill 1142, the bill that establishes the “SafetoSay” anonymous tip line for reporting potential threats in schools. 

The first-year appropriation for the program is set at $60 million drawn by combining $15 million each from the House, Senate and executive branch and an additional $15 million in court fees redirected to a new School Security and Safety Fund. The transfer of the funding is contained in House Bill 1929, the fiscal code bill. 

The state budget legislation, House Bill 2121, which won final approval Friday, includes $600,000 to launch the tip line program under the state attorney general's office. Also in the budget is $10 million to continue an existing safe schools initiative. 

Under the new school safety program, schools can seeks grants to pay for any of 22 specific school safety initiatives listed in the legislation. 

These include: Training and compensation for school resource officers and school police officers, training and compensation for certified counselors, social workers and school psychologists, counseling services for students, staff training to respond to student behavior that may require intervention, specialized staff and student training programs, safety and security assessments, security planning and purchase of security-related technology such as metal detectors, conflict resolution, school positive behavior support, school diversion programs, peer helper programs, curriculum to address violence prevention and safety, classroom management, student codes of conduct, training to do a district assessment of risk factors, developing research-based violence prevention programs, school district emergency preparedness planning, systems to identify visitors, students and staff, system to manage student discipline, trauma-informed approaches to education, evidence-based screenings for adverse childhood experiences and programs designed to reduce community violence. 

“We will be giving schools throughout Pennsylvania the opportunity to apply for funding for critical items such as cameras, safety assessments, metal detectors, school resource officers and other critical resources,” said House Appropriations Committee Majority Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York. 

"It's an introduction of a new program which doesn't happen often to deal with a specific tragic problem," said Senate Democratic Appropriations Chairman Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia. 

Hughes said $52.5 million of the funding will go to schools while $7.5 million will go to community programs centered around schools. 

Many of these intended grant uses have been part of a number of school safety bills introduced in recent months. 

A Senate Appropriations subcommittee heard testimony from several superintendents in central Pennsylvania last May about the need for recurring state funding to support mental health services for students. The committee discussed a proposal to redirect court fees to help schools hire mental health professionals. 

The new program will be overseen by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and more specifically, a new 17-member School Safety and Security Committee under its purview. The members will include appointees from the executive and legislative branches, the attorney general and individuals with expertise in school safety, security and child behavior. 

The committee will be charged with developing criteria to determine “best practices” for doing school safety and security assessments and criteria to certify individuals to conduct those assessments. 

Schools will face a deadline to complete a survey to measure safety and security preparedness. Schools are also required to appoint a safety and security coordinator to oversee school police officers, resource officers and security guards and provide safety training to their employees. 

The legislation provides that grant money is to be distributed geographically and that no school district can receive more than 10 percent of the funds available. 

Another component of SB1142: the Pennsylvania State Police are to establish three “risk and vulnerability” school assessment teams using existing funding. 

There’s even some education-related provisions within the budget’s human services code bill, House Bill 1677.

The legislation authorizes a pilot program in Philadelphia to coordinate delivery of education and human services to students in their families. This program could include and expanded school day to allow more time for instruction, tutoring, and mentoring for students. The state Education Department will be involved with the program.