Schools were once considered safe havens for America’s young people. Parents who sent their children off to school in the morning were confident that they would return home safely in the afternoon. That sense of security has been shattered by episodes of classroom violence, including one in Colorado just days ago.
Unfortunately, when a tragic situation occurs at a school, the natural reaction from some politicians and pundits is to retreat to their political corners and resort to the tired, old blame games. I refuse to believe that’s the way we can best serve our constituents and protect the communities we represent.
Rather than just talking about the problem, I teamed up with Congressman Brad Schneider, D-Illinois, last year to break through the political gridlock and actually get something done to protect our kids. We wrote common-sense, bipartisan legislation to improve security on school grounds. We worked hard to build support on both sides of the aisle and gained the backing of the National Education Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association. Our provision passed Congress and was signed into law by President Donald Trump.
So, what did the law do?
It created a grant program, totaling $25 million this year, through the COPS School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP) to help schools purchase life-saving technology, train staff, and strengthen the security infrastructure of local schools. In 2018, 91 school districts were awarded grants across the country, including seven in Illinois.
Importantly, not every school district has the same security concerns, which is why flexibility is built into the grant program. Maybe the school is located in an urban or suburban area and needs metal detectors, locks, lighting and other deterrent measures. The grant could cover that. Maybe the school is in a rural area and would benefit from quicker communication with local law enforcement and better response time. The grant program could cover that, too. Or maybe new computers, video monitoring equipment, or mapping technology are key. The grant could cover those improvements, as well.
Last year, schools in Union County received a $357,375 grant through the program. They are using it to build a communications tower to more quickly alert first-responders in the case of an emergency. Ninety other school districts across the country were awarded grants, as well. I hosted school officials and law enforcement at Granite City High School last month, and our office has reached out to local officials in all 12 counties of our district encouraging them to apply for this year’s grants.
The application process renews each fiscal year, and this year’s grant application deadline is on May 31. So if school safety is a priority for your family, please encourage your local and county government, school administrators, or local law enforcement to visit www.cops.usdoj.gov/svpp to apply.
We have advanced safety technology in banks, office buildings, and retail locations, there is no reason we shouldn’t have this same technology at our schools to protect our children. As a father and a grandfather, I want to ensure our nation’s children are provided with a safe environment to grow and learn.