Four state senators spoke with the media in a web conference Aug. 15 to tout the new Comprehensive School Safety bill, Act 44, which provides $60 million for safety improvement grants for all of Pennsylvania’s 800 districts and other school entities, such as Vo-Tech.
Sponsors, state Sens. Jay Costa, D-43rd, Wayne Langerholc, R-35th, Jim Brewster, D-45th, and Mike Regan, R-31st, reviewed highlights and answered press questions for an hour.
The bill is designed for flexibility so the specific needs of each district can be met, whether it is new resource officers, counselors, equipment or new programs.
It will also develop new threat reporting and monitoring systems and mandatory school safety training for staff.
What it does not yet do is say how, because the committee has yet to develop the criteria for determining what options work best where, or the formula for how school districts will qualify for grant money and how much they can receive.
All four agreed the commission should be made permanent, not only to continue funding, but to devise proper monitoring, evaluation and review processes to make certain working programs are refined and programs that do not work are not continued. “This can’t be one-time money,” Regan said.
A problem with that, they said, is also simply how to determine if efforts are in fact working. “The goal is for nothing to happen,” Brewster said, regarding incidents such as school shootings. “If there are no incidents, how do we know if [current plans] worked” or if there were simply no attacks that year. And how do you dissuade desperate people who seek attention or contain their threat when they appear,” he asked. “This gets very complicated. Everybody, including the media, will have to participate.”
Costa said it will be helpful if parents reach out to their districts to explain what they want and expect schools to do and that each entity – district or otherwise – should expect at least $25,000.
Brewster said, “I think if we can get some money distributed in the next three to six months we will have done good work.”
But it is on the shoulders of four different subcommittees of specialists to figure out how.