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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

$1 billion for security: Are kids any safer?

Colorado teachers train to use firearms in 2017.

The Texas Education Agency asked the U.S. Education Department whether schools could use a flexible federal grant to pay for guns and firearms training to improve security, reports the New York Times. The department hasn’t responded yet. That’s what’s behind stories that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering buying guns for schools.

In its research, the Education Department has determined that the gun purchases could fall under improving school conditions, people familiar with the department’s thinking said. Under the current guidelines for that part of the grant, the department encourages schools to increase access to mental health counseling, establish dropout prevention programs, reduce suspensions and expulsions and improve re-entry programs for students transitioning from the juvenile justice system. . . . Texas, known for its “school marshal” program, is one of at least nine states that allow school employees to be armed or have access to firearms on campuses.

Districts have wide discretion in how to spend Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, which total $1.1 billion nationwide, notes Ed Week. If DeVos says districts may buy guns, it doesn’t mean schools are obliged to use the money that way.

Nationwide, states are spending nearly $1 billion more on school security this year, reports Carolyn Phenicie on The 74.  “Legislators in at least 26 states poured at least $950 million into school safety programs this year in the wake of the Parkland shooting and additional shootings in MarylandTexas, and elsewhere.”

Most of the money was spent on security upgrades and school resource officers, but the tally also includes funding allocated for mental health programs, violence prevention, emergency planning, and anonymous phone and texting tip lines. . . . “The whole mantra here in policy, at all levels — local, state, and federal — has been: Do something, do anything, do it fast, and do it differently. That philosophy does not make good public policy,” said Ken Trump, a school security expert of no relation to the president.

School security failures usually involve people and procedures, said Trump.  “But the funding that’s coming out is skewed very heavily to the hardware and the products with very little to the people side, which is where we see the gaps,” he said.

The school security industry is booming, writes Mark Keierleber, also on The 74. Since the Columbine massacre in 1999, it’s become a multi-billion dollar business.

Security officials . . . hawked a range of products that could have been ripped from a James Bond movie: surveillance cameras with facial recognition capability, automated door locks, gunshot detection sensors, and software that scans social media platforms in search of the next shooter.

The odds that a K-12 student will be shot and killed at school are 1 in 614 million, by one estimate, writes Keierleber. “According to the most recent federal education statistics, between 1992 and 2015, fewer than 3 percent of murders in which the victims were children and fewer than 1 percent of youth suicides occurred at schools.”

But parents are afraid.

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