New federal spending law boosts resources for school safety

Early this morning (Friday, March 23) Congress gave final approval to a sweeping $1.3 trillion federal spending bill that funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2018 budget year, which ends on Sept. 30.  President Trump signed the measure into law today.

Spending aimed at increasing school safety gets a big boost under this new federal spending law.

According to media reports, the spending bill boosts investments in student mental health, increasing funding by $700 million for a wide-ranging grant program that schools can use for violence prevention, counseling and crisis management. The bill calls for an additional $22 million for a program to reduce school violence and $25 million for a Department of Health and Human Services program that supports mental-health services in schools.

The legislation also creates a new federal grant program for school safety under provisions of the Student, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act of 2018, a bipartisan piece of legislation introduced earlier this session that passed the House of Representatives on March 14 by a 407-10 vote.  The omnibus spending package incorporates STOP School Violence Act provisions and increases funding for it.

Media reports indicate the bill takes $75 million in funding away from an existing, wide-ranging school safety grant program in the Department of Justice—called the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative—that focused on and building safe and supportive school environments, and moves it to STOP School Violence Act programs that focus on physical security measures.  .

Under those STOP School Violence Act provisions, $75 million in federal grant monies are to be made available this year (federal fiscal year 2018) through two federal agencies, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).  Over the following ten years, $100 million per year will be made available for these grants in future federal fiscal years—from 2019 through 2028.

Grants made though the BJA are to be awarded to states and local units of government for ‘‘evidence-based school safety programs” that may include:

o   Training school personnel and students to prevent student violence against others and self;

o   The development and operation of anonymous reporting systems for threats of school violence, including mobile telephone applications, hotlines, and Internet websites;

o   The development and operation of school threat assessment and intervention teams that may include coordination with law enforcement agencies and school personnel, and specialized training for school officials in responding to mental health crises.

o   Any other measure that, in the determination of the BJA Director, may provide a significant improvement in training, threat assessments and reporting, and violence prevention.

Grants made though COPS are to be awarded to states and local units of government for purposes that may include:

o   Coordination with local law enforcement;

o   Training for local law enforcement officers to prevent student violence against others and self;

o   Placement and use of metal detectors, locks, lighting, and other deterrent measures;

o   ‘Acquisition and installation of technology for expedited notification of local law enforcement during an emergency; and

o   Any other measure that, in the determination of the COPS Director, may provide a significant improvement in security.

The spending bill also incorporates bipartisan legislation dubbed the ‘‘Fix NICS Act of 2018’’ meant to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for gun buyers and provides $75 million for that purpose.

The House of Representatives passed the 2,232-page bill Thursday on a wide 256-to-167 bipartisan vote.  The U.S. Senate followed suit early this morning, passing the legislation 65 to 32.

Overall, the spending package directs $700 billion toward the military and $591 billion to domestic agencies.  The military spending level is $66 billion more than last year, while non-defense spending reflects a $52 billion increase over the 2017 level. That $52 billion figure includes a $3.9 billion boost for U.S. Department of Education programs.

The spending bill is widely expected to be the last major piece of legislation that Congress will pass before the November midterm elections, which had increased pressure to  add numerous pieces of separate legislation in to the package.