Viewpoint: Keeping our schools safe
By Sen. Greg Clausen, Minnesota Senate District 57
As a former teacher, principal and coach, I know how important it is for parents, kids and teachers to feel safe at school. Under tight budget constraints, schools are wrestling with an increasing list of demands for security upgrades — training teachers to identify and work with students struggling with mental illness, counselors and mental health professionals, and figuring out how to make local schools a secure and positive learning environment. It's an overwhelming task and it's getting more difficult after each new school tragedy.
This year, I will be introducing a package of measures to enhance school safety and make our schools more secure. The first bill will increase funding for the Minnesota School Safety Center. The center provides training and resources to schools to help prepare and recover from a wide array of emergencies. School emergency planning helps school staff know how to assist students through a crisis situation. The three-member staff at the Safety Center held 250 events in 2018 and drove 28,000 miles around Minnesota to provide schools with security advice. Staff tell us that schools are doing better in response to a crisis, but that they need help in preparing before a crisis happens. My legislation increases funding to better serve our schools.
My school safety grants legislation appropriates $500 million for improvements related to violence prevention and facility security. One bill secures the funding from bond proceeds and the other from the general fund. Schools can apply for up to $500,000 for each qualifying school building. In 2018, $25 million was appropriated for school safety in the Legislature's capital investment bill. Grant requests from schools totaled 10 times that amount — about $250 million — for school security. It is clear our schools need and want help.
I've also introduced legislation to increase school-linked mental health grants. These grants are vital to increase accessibility for children and youth who are uninsured or underinsured. Grants will improve clinical and function outcomes for children and youth with a mental health diagnosis and improve the identification of mental health issues for children and youth. This important initiative connects effective mental health services with schools and students. The project has proven particularly effective in reaching children who have never accessed mental health services. Unfortunately, schools lack the funding to provide adequate resources to students most in need. They also lack staff to help identify problems students face. Mental health grants would provide more funding for much needed mental health counselors in our schools. We currently do not have enough mental health resources — both as a preventative measure and to help students cope with trauma, to help students lead healthy lives and reach their potential.
The last piece of my school safety legislation increases the amount schools may levy to enhance school safety and staff needs. Currently schools may levy up to $36 per student. My bill would increase that amount and also provide additional funding for our intermediate school districts, which provide educational services to some of our most vulnerable students. The increase is needed because most Minnesota schools are at the maximum amount and cannot levy any additional dollars to face growing needs. The Safe Schools Levy allows school districts to levy locally for costs associated with student and staff safety issues. With the levy money, schools can invest in school resource officers, counselors, social workers, chemical dependency services, school security, drug abuse prevention programs, gang resistance education training, and staff and student safety training. My legislation will also expand how the funds can be used to include equipment for emergency situations, video monitoring, and funding for resource officers in our schools.
Children are our most precious possession. We need to keep them and our local schools safe. It is important to invest the resources to support our children and educators to keep them safe in our schools.
To contact me with your ideas and feedback, you can reach me by phone at 651-296-4120 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also mail letters or pay me a visit in the Minnesota Senate Building, Room 2233, right across the street from the Capitol.