States’ plans to make schools safer reflect political differences

LITTLE SKIRT, Ark. – Subsequent to school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Governors across the country pledged to take action to ensure the safety of their students.

Months later than students Return to the classroomMoney has started flowing towards school safety improvements, training and other new efforts to make classrooms safer.

But the responses often reflect political divisions: Many Republicans have emphasized spending on school safety, while Democrats have called for stricter gun controls.

At each step, the actions have sparked debate about whether states are doing the right things to counter the scourge of the school shootings.

In a special legislative session in Arkansas last month, lawmakers approved $50 million for a School Safety Fund proposed by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Rules for distributing the money have not yet been finalized, but Hutchinson said he wants to help implement recommendations from a school safety commission he reinstated after the May shooting in Texas that killed 19 students and two teachers.


The shooting “should serve as a reminder that the threat of violence in our schools has not diminished,” Hutchinson said. “It continues to be real and we must act with renewed urgency to protect our children.”

Texas was among several other states that set aside money for school safety. Gov. Greg Abbott and other senior Republican leaders announced $105.5 million for school safety initiatives. Almost half of that was for bulletproof shields for school police, and $17.1 million was to be bought by districts Panic Alarm Technology.

Other Republican governors who have provided money for safety improvements include Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who announced $100 million for school safety three days after the Uvalde shooting, and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, whose state won 2nd place Provides $.6 million to increase training capacity and instruction for school resource officers.


“While these are the latest measures we are taking to ensure the safety of our children, I can assure you they will not be the last. I will work with everyone, even in the middle of a heated election cycle, to protect our students,” Kemp, who is running for re-election, said in June.

Some of the Republican governors who have campaigned aggressively to strengthen school security have ruled out any kind of gun control measures.

Hutchinson had said there should be a discussion about raising the age for purchasing an AR-15 style rifle – the type of weapon used at Uvalde – but did not pursue such action during the meeting. Abbott too has pushed back calls for more gun control by families of victims of the Uvalde shooting. Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt pledged to fight against any gun restrictions when he signed an executive order on law enforcement training and risk assessment in schools.


In California, which already had some of the toughest gun laws in the country, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a dozen more into law this term and even ran ads in Texas newspapers criticizing the state’s stance on guns.

“We’re tired of being on the defense in this movement,” Newsom said in July.

In New Jersey, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation last month requiring the state’s nearly 600 school districts to set up assessment teams aimed at curbing violence in schools. One of the sponsors of the bill said he had heard of a Uvalde victim pretending to have been killed attacking to escape the shooter.

“Anyone want to teach that – how to play dead?” said Rep. Pamela Lampitt, a Democrat, during a hearing in June.

Despite partisan disagreements over gun violence, a group of governors say it will try to find common ground. A task force set up by the National Governors Association in the wake of the Uvalde shooting will develop recommendations to stop mass shootings, with a focus on school safety. Hutchinson, a former chairman of the association, said the task force will focus in part on how states could use funds made available to them through the bipartisan gun control bill President Joe Biden signed it in June.


Teachers, political opponents and others have raised questions about the scope and effectiveness of the heads of state’s plans.

In Arkansas, Democratic lawmakers questioned whether districts drawing money from the new scholarship program should have an armed presence on campus, one of the first recommendations of the state School Safety Commission.

“It’s one thing to say ‘school safety,’ but that’s so much,” said Democratic Senator Linda Chesterfield, a retired educator and the only congressman to vote against the grant program. “What exactly do you have in mind and what price will it cost? I think I’m just tired of having to fly at the seat of my pants and not knowing anything about what’s going to go into this (Commission) report.”

In Ohio, teachers’ unions say one-off funding for equipment like door locks and radio systems — but not for ongoing needs like staff — is helpful but not enough.


Schools also need money for staff, including security and psychiatric staff, said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association.

“Ideally, you would use the funding to ensure that any school that wants to hire well-trained school resource officers as part of their school safety plan can do so,” DiMauro said. “And from that perspective, $100 million isn’t going to solve the problem in the long run.”


Associated Press writer Samantha Hendrickson in Columbus, Ohio; Jeff Amy in Atlanta; Paul Weber in Austin, Texas; Don Thompson in Sacramento, California; Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City; and Mike Catalini of Trenton, New Jersey, contributed to this report.


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Sarah Y. Kim

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