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First Look: The STOP School Violence Act of 2018

By Ashley Schultz

On the same week more than 200,000 students and teachers marched on Washington to protest gun violence in schools, Congress and President Trump signed into law the 2018 Omnibus Spending Bill. The bill – which funds all federal programs for the remainder of the fiscal year - includes key provisions for expanding K-12 school safety programs. Such support will be delivered in the form of grant funding to states and units of local government over the next 10 years. While most details of this funding are still in the works, here’s a brief glance at what we currently know about the Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing School Violence Act of 2018 ―

How much funding is available?
The Omnibus Spending Bill designates $75 million for 2018 school safety projects. This funding will be split between two yet-to-be-titled grant programs –

Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Grant - $50 million
Office of Community Oriented Policing (COPS) Grant - $25 million

Moving forward, an additional $100 million will be available for these programs each year through 2028. Funding will be divided in similar proportions – with $67 million dedicated to BJA and $33 million to COPS Office programs annually. Cost sharing/matching components of both grants is anticipated to be 50% - or dollar-for-dollar. This means the US will see a total investment of nearly $2 billion in school safety over the next ten years.

  • What activities will be eligible for grant funding?
    The bill outlines key purpose areas for funding in the BJA and COPS Office programs. While these general concepts will be fleshed out in the coming months, full text of the existing measures is quoted below –
  • The BJA is authorized to make grants for the following purposes:
    -Training school personnel and students to prevent student violence against others and self.
    -The development and operation of anonymous reporting systems for threats of school violence, including mobile telephone applications, hotlines, and Internet websites.
    -The development and operation of—
    School threat assessment and intervention teams that may include coordination with law enforcement agencies and school personnel; and specialized training for school officials in responding to mental health crises.
    -Any other measure that, in the determination of the BJA Director, may provide a significant improvement in training, threat assessments and reporting, and violence prevention.

    The COPS Office is authorized to make grants for the following purposes:
    -Coordination with local law enforcement.
    -Training for local law enforcement officers to prevent student violence against others and self.
    -Placement and use of metal detectors, locks, lighting, and other deterrent measures.
    -Acquisition and installation of technology for expedited notification of local law enforcement during an emergency.
    -Any other measure that, in the determination of the COPS Director, may provide a significant improvement in security.

    What activities does this leave out?
    The bill expressly prohibits grant funding be dedicated to firearms or firearm training to recipients – including training for police officers, school resource officers, teachers, or school staff members. Further, it bans any of its provisions from being “construed to preclude or contradict” laws for firearms. Given the vitriol surrounding the nationwide debate for gun control, these provisions allowed the bill to pass both the House and Senate with overwhelming margins. Any future lawmaking for or against this matter will be decided in a different piece of legislation.
  • Who does the STOP School Violence Act benefit?
    Officially, these new programs are attached to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. This Act was the first to allow federal agencies to grant funding for law enforcement purposes. As such, we’re unlikely to see funding directly available to K-12 schools themselves. Instead, states, local governments, and tribal organizations will apply for funding as prime recipients of any school safety projects. The 2018 Bill identifies eligible sub-recipients as local education agencies and non-profit organizations (excluding schools). Moving forward, this means any grant-funded prevention activity will require partnership between law enforcement and education agencies. It’s good practice for such agencies to get the conversation started and formalize relationships while we wait for more grant details. For more information on this topic, check out a recent FUNDED article from the grants team on partnerships at: http://grantsoffice.com/Portals/0/funded/issues/FUNDEDNov2017.pdf
  • Who does this leave out?
    Limiting sub-recipients to local education agencies (LEAs) and non-profit organizations (excluding schools) leaves out key players in the campus safety landscape. First and foremost, it appears higher education institutions will not be eligible for any funding in the STOP School Violence Act. Further, private schools, parochial schools, and exploratory charter schools without official LEA status will also be excluded from grant-funded projects. These agencies will continue to rely on alternative sources of funding, including state funds and area foundations.
  • What more is to come?
    Over the next few weeks, we’ll hear more updates on new BJA and COPS Office programming. This will include detailed information on award sizes, project expectations, and concrete deadlines. We’ll also be watching for clarification on priority projects. The Omnibus Spending Bill mentions priority consideration for applicants that (1) Demonstrate high need for improved security; and (2) Demonstrate high need for financial assistance. It will be up to the BJA and COPS Office Directors to outline exactly how that line is drawn for future applicants.