The Ripon Advance: GOP senators rally around bipartisan STOP School Violence Act proposal

U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Todd Young (R-IN), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Steve Daines (R-MT) joined several colleagues in introducing the U.S. Senate version of a bipartisan bill to beef up anti-violence measures in America’s schools.

The Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act of 2018 would authorize $75 million to fund evidence-based school safety programs and practices for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 and $100 million annually for the following 10 years thereafter, among other provisions, according to a joint statement released by the senators on March 5 announcing the bill.

“By providing critical resources to schools to strengthen their security infrastructure and train teachers, administrators, and law enforcement officers to intervene, we can save countless lives,” said Sen. Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who noted the “incredible success” Utah has had putting similar critical resources closer to students, “stopping 86 attacks in schools since 2016. I believe we can replicate that success on a national level with this common sense, noncontroversial proposal.”

Also joining the Republican senators in introducing the bill were U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Bill Nelson (D-FL), among several other Democrats, Republicans and an Independent. Sen. Klobuchar called the proposal “just one part of the solution. I believe we also need to pass a number of other safety measures related to guns, including universal background checks.”

Although the federal government has funded various short-term school safety initiatives targeting crisis response and physical infrastructure improvements, for example, the investments have been post-mass school shootings, according to a joint statement and summary of the bill provided individually by several of the senators. And while such funding is important, according to the senators’ statement, the most recent killings last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., highlight that they’ve yet to see sustained strategies that proactively end school violence.

Toward proactive solutions, the Senate-proposed STOP School Violence Act would amend the Secure Our Schools Act of 2001-2009 to provide U.S. Department of Justice grants to states that want to fund school security measures and early intervention and prevention programs that train students, school staff and local law enforcement to identify warning signs and intervene when there’s school violence—including if a person is hurting himself or herself; to respond to threats; and to install technology, threat assessment and reporting systems, and safety equipment, among other programs and practices, according to the senators’ summary.

These are the additional resources required by schools and law enforcement “to prevent violence and keep children safe. Students should be focused on learning, not fearing for their safety. This bill makes schools more secure and saves lives,” said Sen. Cassidy.

Sen. Ernst added that such prevention funds will empower states and local communities to take whatever steps they find necessary to deter future threats and thwart school violence. “Our children’s safety, well-being, and future must always come first,” she said.

“It is essential that we take steps to secure our schools so that students are protected and have a safe environment in which to learn,” agreed Sen. Collins.

Sen. Capito pointed out that the STOP School Violence Act also would provide funding to support coordinated efforts around aggressive actions of any form, which she said are happening “too often among children and students today.” This would include funds to develop school crisis intervention teams, for example, according to the summary.

Early support for the Senate’s bill from Dominick Stokes, vice president of legislative affairs for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and Robert Boyd, executive director at the Secure Schools Alliance, cited its benefits to save lives by putting funds into school security programs. “School is supposed to be a safe haven for our children to learn while parents are working,” said Stokes, who added that thus far in 2018 there have been 11 school shootings in the United States.