Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Walker/WisGOP "school safety plan another cynical, pre-election sham

Today, the Wisconsin Assembly's Education Committee held its one and only public hearing on Governor Walker's package of school safety bills. These bills are expected to be voted on by the committee tomorrow and the full Assembly on Thursday. And not surprisingly, there is a lot that clearly needs to be ironed out if our Governor and the State Legislature truly cares about lessening the chances of mass shootings in schools.

For exmaple, maybe we should listen to those who have actually been in the classroom and deal with K-12 education before we jam this through. Tony Evers’ Department of Public Instruction had their thoughts on what to do with school safety, and it greatly differed from the Walker/WisGOP bills. First of all, on the bill that sets aside a $100 million pot of money for schools to "upgrade school safety", DPI objected to Walker's decision to leave Brad Schimel's Department of Justice to be the ones who decide who gets the grants, and that the funding for safety should go beyond a one-time stunt.
The bill provides the Attorney General (AG) unrestricted authority to set grant criteria and conditions. While the proposed bill provide some restrictions on the use of funds, it exempts the Department of Justice (DOJ) from promulgating rules. As such, the AG could give preference to or limit eligibility to districts that arm teachers or allow conceal carry. This is a bad precedent and deeply troubling policy.

Restricting funds to “hardening” schools and armed officers is a narrow approach not supported by education stakeholders and law enforcement. Law enforcement and education leaders have called for a comprehensive approach including student supports, interventions, programming and infrastructure. Many districts have addressed their physical infrastructure and security staffing, but need resources to address student and family needs.

One-time funds will not provide a sustainable solution. In the almost 20 years since the Columbine High School Massacre, active shooter threats have proliferated. Schools have acted locally, while the Governor and legislature eliminated crucial tools by repealing the school safety revenue limit flexibility in 2011 Act 32. Providing one-time funding will not adequately address this challenge or remediate the extent of the infrastructure issues.
DPI also questioned why there needed to be more bureaucracy in the Department of Justice when DPI already has programs that can deal with mental health and training on how to handle potentially violent situations.
Housing a school safety center in DOJ narrowly focuses this effort on physical infrastructure and law enforcement’s response. Education stakeholders and law enforcement leaders have called for a comprehensive response. Elected leaders focusing on arming teachers is divisive and undermines public confidence in this proposal.

Funds should be allocated to the already existing Wisconsin Safe & Healthy (WISH) Schools Training & Technical Assistance. Providing new staff and resources to DOJ to create a parallel center is inefficient and will create a disjointed approach to school safety. The WISH center and DPI already have staff working in this area.
The Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association also says that the GOP’s “school safety” bill doesn’t do what is needed to be done to diminish threats. The Police Chiefs agreed with DPI that arming teachers was an awful idea, saying “more harm than good” would likely result, and also said the GOP Legislature’s prior restrictions on spending for local governments and school districts should be lifted if we want to have these safety improvements.
Sufficient funds should be allocated to increase the number of school resource officers who are fully trained law enforcement officers and not merely armed security guards, who do not come close to law enforcement training standards. The ability to use lethal force in a school, should only be given to highly trained law enforcement officers. Law enforcement should not be forced to operate under existing revenue caps when the public is clamoring for more safety for their children. Relief from the revenue caps for public safety expenditures, so those communities that need to hire more law enforcement officers to address local community issues, can do so.

• Sufficient funds should be allocated for school security improvements. Improvements needed include: a single secure access point, securely locked exits throughout the school, security cameras which law enforcement can view in real time, metal detectors, school resource officers, and alarm systems on emergency exits and all classroom doors. Many schools are old and outdated. School districts should be allowed to exceed state-imposed revenue limits for security related expenditures.

• Sufficient funds should be allocated for mental health services for teachers, students, and kids who need help.

While policymakers have spent sufficient time studying the broken mental health service delivery system, there has been no comprehensive and sustainable effort to address the insufficient funding for the crushing demands of those in need of mental health services. Provide funds for training, including trauma informed care for teachers, guidance counselors, and school coaches so they can recognize potentially violent behavior from students. Currently, there is “no one” responsible for follow-up with troubled individuals. Additional educational resources for expelled students should be considered. The current system is underfunded, and operations are independent of one another, which is why critical communication is intermittent, uncoordinated, and sporadic. These additional mental health dollars should also cover a law enforcement officer who suffers from PTSD as a result of his or her involvement in dealing with a school shooting. Mirror language just passed by Florida.
The Police Chiefs also called for more coordination between schools and law enforcement as a way to figure out tactical entrances and evacuations, and asked for schools to have more funding for crisis relief.

Oh, and the Police Chiefs recommended another key modification to the Walker/WisGOP’s “school safety” agenda – HAVE MORE SAFEGUARDS TO KEEP BAD PEOPLE FROM GETTING GUNS. This includes universal background checks, with an additional mental health background check for people under 21, and reinstating the 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases that Walker and WisGOP repealed in 2015.

As State Rep. David Bowen noted during today’s hearing, if time is of the essence with this program, why is the Walker Administration starting up a brand new grant program through the Department of Justice? This requires criteria to be drawn up for the grant, then schools must be given time to put their proposals together, and then DOJ would have o grade and award those proposals. How is that going to work in time for the 2018-19 school year to start in 5 months? And the fact that Brad Schimel’s Department of Justice would draw up that criteria and decide what can/cannot be part of these safety grants is a very large red flag. Schimel was claiming today that he could have the whole thing ready to go in less than 3 months, and I find that impossible to believe, unless the grants truly aren't competitive and that the grantees have basically been selected, which makes the whole bill a sham.

Would you trust this guy to do this right? Schimel, I mean.

I also noticed a parent admonished the Assembly Education Committee at today’s public hearing for developing these bills in secret and trying to pass them into law within 72 hours of the text being made available to the public.
And I think the parent's instincts were spot-on. The rushed nature and flaws in these special session bills tell me that this thing needs to be put back in the oven, developed more wisely, and dealt with next year (hopefully with a Governor and AG that isn’t flop-sweating about their sketchy chances for re-election). If we can’t wait that long, then let's do what Superintendent Evers, the Police Chiefs, and legislative Dems want- give school districts the flexibility to spend money on school safety initiatives, and not have those expenses count against the tight revenue caps.

Which is why I don't think Walker and WisGOP are really that serious about actually lowering the chances of a mass shooting in Wisconsin schools. In fact, Scotty gave the game away yesterday at one of his taxpayer-funded campaign stops.
"Let’s just take it up. Let’s just get it done. I don’t care what the format is," Walker told reporters.
That’s because the intent of this legislation is for NRA-owners politicians like Walker to be seen DOING SOMETHING on school safety. It doesn’t matter to these posers if THESE INITIATIVES DO NOTHING TO MAKE SCHOOL SAFER, as long the pictures and claims can be used in campaign ads to distract rubes until November.

Sickening cynicism and desperation. But that's the way it goes with the 2018 GOP.

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