New money for hiring school resource officers
(Tenn.) Gov. Bill Lee has proposed legislation that would allow as many as 500 schools in Tennessee that currently do not have any armed law enforcement personnel on campus to hire school resource officers.
The grants, which would cost about $40 million, will also be made available for other school safety projects including building security systems, as well as other safety-related programs, such as conflict resolution and behavior management.
“The safety of our children and teachers is a top priority for my administration,” Lee said in a statement last week. “This investment will ensure that school districts will have the resources they need to better protect our schools.
According to a 2018 analysis by the Tennessean, a gun threat is reported at a school somewhere in the state every three days. Although not a recent site of a mass school incident, schools in Tennessee have a tragic history of school violence—including 10 homicides involving a gun between 2001 to 2017, the newspaper reported.
During that same period, statistics from the state’s Bureau of Investigation and the Nashville Police Department showed there were nearly 1,700 law enforcement reports involving a gun or threats of a gun at K-12 schools and colleges.
During the seven-year period ending in 2015, the rate of students found having guns on school campuses was more than double the national average during five of those years.
In the wake of the mass killing at a high school in Parkland, Florida, former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam convened a blue-ribbon task force to take a close look at school safety and make recommendations.
Even before the panel concluded its work, the Tennessee General Assembly approved $35 million to pay for all 147 school districts in the state to undertake a security assessment and develop plans for responding to school wide emergencies.
The panel’s 20-page report, which was released last November, included a number of findings—perhaps the biggest was the need for more school resource officers.
Toward that end, legislation was introduced simultaneously earlier this month into both the House and the Senate that would place both the state Department of Education and the Department of Homeland Security in charge of administering the new grant program.
Under the bill, which has yet to be considered by either a policy or fiscal committee, grant funding would correlate with the same share that a school district now receives of the state’s basic education allocation.
Districts with schools that do not yet have a resource officer assigned to their campus would be given priority. There is also a 25 percent local match requirement.
Any remaining money not used for hiring resource officers would then be made available for other uses including violence prevention programs, conflict resolution, behavior management, peer mediation, and training for employees on the identification of possible perpetrators of school-related violence.