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It has been a year since the devastating school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Across the nation, lawmakers have spent the year devising ways to prevent a similar tragedy, but only a fraction of the laws proposed in the immediate aftermath of the school shootings have been enacted.
Families and schools across Nebraska are looking to their lawmakers for leadership. We need to show our commitment to keeping our students and their schools safe. As an educator for over 40 years and the founding principal of Millard West High School, I know what kind of security it takes to run a school, especially a school of over 2,000 students. That number of students exceeds the population of many towns in Nebraska. Just this year alone, Millard spent over $20 million on school security improvements.
When I talk about school security, I am referring to: infrastructure (doors, locks, cameras, walls); security staff (school resource officers, guidance counselors, mediators); and school culture (anti-bullying resources, positive behavior models for teachers, reduced class sizes, and conflict resolution programs). All of these measures require funding and they are crucial to maintaining a safe school that is free of violence, abuse and fear.
These expenses and experiences are not unique to Millard. Regardless of geography or size, superintendents across Nebraska are facing the same dilemma of keeping students, educators and parents safe, without taking resources away from their student’s education, teachers’ salaries, or maintenance of their buildings.
So what can we do in Nebraska to improve our school security? Last session I introduced legislation (LB 346) to allow school boards, with a 2/3 super majority vote, to raise their maximum levy 1 cent to use for school security improvements. This legislation is at the moment stalled in the Revenue Committee with 4 yes votes, 3 no votes and 1 undecided.
This interim, I have been working on resolution (LR 208) to further explore the need for funding school security improvements, and see if there is a way to do so through the Education Committee. I believe one immediate option would be to create a state grant program in which schools could apply and receive funding for school security improvements. Long term, the Legislature may want to consider a school security adjustment to the state aid to schools formula.
The first step is to have the Nebraska Department of Education conduct a statewide assessment of school security – needs as well as costs. This would be used to create a state minimum standard of school security and help us target money to schools that need the most help. I plan to introduce legislation this year that will require us to take this first step.
I will continue to put pressure on the Revenue Committee to advance my school security bill (LB 346) out of committee. I ask that you help me by reaching out to the four Senators who refuse to advance this important and timely piece of legislation: Senators Charlie Janssen, Beau McCoy, Paul Schumacher and Pete Pirsch. Tell them to let us debate this legislation with the full legislature.
If the lawmakers in this state don’t do anything, and God forbid we have more school violence and tragedies, then all eyes will be on us for not taking bigger steps to protect Nebraska’s youth.