$65M ‘safety fund’ proposed for schools

 

DOVER — Draft legislation unveiled Tuesday would set aside $65 million to protect schools, allowing officials to use the funding to install bulletproof glass, key card entrances, metal detectors, cameras and other security measures.

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, is intended as a counterproposal to several Democratic-backed bills that would place greater restrictions on firearms.

“I’ve consulted with educators, I’ve consulted with construction persons, I’ve consulted with a tremendous amount of parents and this is what they’re asking for,” Sen. Lawson said. “The money is available. There’s no reason for it not to be, and for that matter, whether we had good revenue sources this year or not, we must do this. We must protect our kids.”

The proposal would establish a fund filled with one-time money and overseen by the secretary of safety and homeland security, who would award amounts to schools that apply. To be eligible, schools would be required to have on staff two armed security guards separate from school resource officers. They would also have to meet any other requirements set by the secretary.

Sen. Lawson envisions the guards as military veterans: “It would be the perfect place for them to be useful, to be involved, to be out there working to protect our kids — and let’s face it, they’ve already worked to protect our kids once.”

While Sen. Lawson did not indicate where the funding would come from, it would presumably be taken out of the extra revenue the state is expected to collect.

Senator Dave Lawson

The bill’s announcement comes as lawmakers begin marking up the operating budget and have about $180 million more to work with than when the governor unveiled his spending recommendations in January. That money is already being eaten up, however, with the Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday earmarking in its preliminary allocations approximately $46.5 million for programs and pay increases while also setting $46 million aside for next year.

The co-chairs of JFC said they have not seen the proposal and were hesitant to comment.

“We’ve had a very, very good day here. We know that a lot of people have had some pent-up feelings about spending on things but let us enjoy the day,” Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, said. “We’ve got two more weeks, another week and a half to go. If that has merit and has been thought through in the right way, maybe we will consider it, but it’s too premature.”

A spokesman for Gov. John Carney said the governor will consider the draft bill.

“He has spoken with Senator Lawson about his proposal, but has not reviewed the proposal in detail,” Jonathan Starkey wrote in an email. “We take school safety very seriously in Delaware. All public schools are required to have a school safety plan that addresses emergency incidents. Each year, the Delaware Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Education work with traditional public and charter schools statewide to update their plans, and test them through staff training on critical incidents. More information is available at de.gov/schoolsafety.”

The cost based off estimates from construction personnel of what is needed to cover most schools in the state.

According to Sen. Lawson, the measure was inspired by Israel’s methods of safeguarding schools.

“We must protect our most precious resource, our children,” he said. “I demand that my children and my grandchildren be protected. I demand that. I know other parents do too.”

Legislation introduced by House Republicans in March would create a similar fund, although that amount would be limited to $5 million and individual schools would receive no more than $50,000. Sen. Lawson noted that measure is pending but said it does not allocate enough money.

Also in the House is a proposal to require all new schools to have several security features, such as bulletproof glass, a panic button and classroom doors that can be locked from the outside.

Democrats are leaning more on gun control to keep schools safe, with bills to ban the sale of “assault-style weapons,” prevent 18-, 19-and 20-year-olds from buying rifles, create procedures for taking guns from individuals believed to be dangerous, prohibit magazines that hold more than 17 rounds and criminalize possession of bump stocks in various stages of the legislative process.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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