Back at it: School security technology ‘main priority’

Thursday, April 9, 2015

WASHINGTON—They’re not giving up. Advocates for federal funding for school security technology have taken their case to Congress for the past two years to no avail; a measure last year got caught up in the gun control debate and fell victim to politics. Now, the fight begins anew.

“We are trying to restart the conversation about security technology needs,” said Jake Parker, director of government relations for SIA. “This is our main federal priority.”

SIA is joined in its efforts by ESA, the National School Boards Association and the County Executives of America. They have sent requests to the House and Senate Appropriation committees to reinstate funding for the Secure Our Schools Program, Parker told Security Systems News.

Federal grant assistance has not been available since FY2011. For FY2016, the associations are seeking $15 million for the program, to be administered by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services or a similar program. The bipartisan Secure Our Schools initiative is spearheaded by Reps. Henry Hyde, R-N.J., and Steve Rothman, D-N.J.

The 50-50 matching grant program requires schools to coordinate with local law enforcement. Security assessments will determine individual schools’ needs. Grants then would be tailored to those needs and would provide for security technology, emergency communications and emergency preparedness training for education and law enforcement. The technology is key, Parker said.

The associations’ request to the Appropriations committees reads in part: “Our associations support a holistic approach to school security and student safety that addresses all elements of risk and root causes of violent events. However, recent improvements in security technology have led to an increased interest among education leaders in using technology as a key element of solutions designed to meet the school safety challenges we face. In fact, no other approach offers similar protection for students that can be achieved in the near term.”

Higher-income school districts may have purchased and installed security technology on their own, Parker said, but others simply don’t have the money to do so. That issue also was addressed in the request to Congress.

It is difficult to quantify how many school districts across the country are in need, but there are far too many, he said.

It’s been more than two years since Newtown, when school security was on everyone’s mind, Parker said. Since then, schools have been “slower than anticipated” and “all over the map” in improving security technology, he said.

Some states have provided funding, and some of those programs are up for renewal. SIA will be monitoring those as well, he said.

“We need to have some federal assistance for schools in whatever form. There is money for school safety [research], but we need it specifically earmarked for technology,” Parker said.

It’s too early to predict the success of the initiative. Ideally, he said, Congress will reinstate funding, but at the very least “we want to increase the profile of this issue,” he said.