Minn. House Republicans want $50M for school security, mental health
Blooming Prairie Leader - 4/1/2018
ST. PAUL - Minnesota House Republicans want to spend $50 million to help make schools safer from violence.
The plan, announced Thursday, March 29, significantly overlaps with a $21 million proposal by Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, suggesting that agreement is possible - on measures that don't include gun control.
The Republicans' plan draws from an assemblage of proposals working their way through the Legislature that include physical security as well as mental health, threat assessment and suicide prevention.
It includes the following:
Enlarging pools of grant money already available for schools to pay for security improvements, which could range from school police officers to cameras to bulletproof glass, as well as hiring mental health professionals or training teachers in suicide prevention.
Loosening up state laws that currently prevent schools from spending certain funds, such as building maintenance dollars, on building security enhancements.
Schools would have access to the money on a per-pupil basis. The plan doesn't say how schools should spend the money, but rather offers a number of categories from which individual school districts could choose.
"I really hesitate to put myself in the shoes of a school district," said Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, the chair of the House Education Finance Committee, who led a news conference with a number of her colleagues Thursday. "It would be not a good idea to be prescriptive."
Loon said that after speaking with dozens of school superintendents from throughout the state, she concluded that school districts are "kind of all over the map when it comes to priorities."
In choosing this route, Republicans avoid being accused of militarizing schools, since a district could opt to spend money on mental health counselors - or metal detectors; that would be up to the school district.
Some details of the Republicans' plan haven't been hashed out. It's unclear where the money would come from or how much of it would continue into the future. Under the plan, $50 million would be available in 2019. Loon said the flow of dollars wouldn't stop after that, but she said lawmakers haven't figured out how much should be available beyond 2019.
Republicans in the Minnesota Senate support similar measures as well.
$20.9M Dayton plan
Dayton's $20.9 million plan, which he announced earlier this month, includes nearly $16 million to make physical improvements to schools and invest in mental health programs to help identify "red flags" and help - or intervene with - expelled students.
Dayton's plan would also include $5 million for mental health programs.
Dayton also doesn't want to prescribe specific things schools should do, but rather leave such decisions up to the schools, within broad categories.
Gun control not included
Dayton announced his school safety plan along with his support for several gun control measures, none of which have been embraced by Republicans who hold majorities in both the House and Senate. As such, those proposals, which range from banning bump stocks to expanding the use of criminal background checks, are essentially dead right now.
That's unacceptable to many Democrats.
In response to Thursday's announcement by Republican house members, House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman released the following statement: "Republicans are doing nothing on gun violence prevention. Minnesotans have a right to safe movie theaters, safe churches, safe college campuses and safe schools, and they won't get that unless we address gun violence."
Hortman, a DFLer from Brooklyn Park, did not respond to a request for her thoughts on the actual actions that were proposed by Republicans.