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School safety commission leader details perks of new federal gun-safety law


The Arkansas School Safety Commission opened its meeting today with its chair updating members on the billions of dollars in gun-safety measures headed to Arkansas and other states — much of which can be used by schools.

Of course, that’s no thanks to any of Arkansas’s six Republican members of Congress, who all voted against the bipartisan gun-safety bill. That measure, signed into law by President Biden, contains provisions aimed at improving criminal background checks, keeping guns out of dangerous hands and boosting mental-health care and school security.

Commission Chair Cheryl May, director of the University of Arkansas Criminal Justice Institute, did not mention the Arkansas delegation’s opposition to the legislation.

“In this new federal legislation, there’s going to be a big boost in school safety funding, and there’s also going to be an impact on school mental health, which are both really good things,” said May, who heads the commission created by Republican Governor Hutchinson.

May itemized the new law’s monetary benefits:

  • $1 billion in additional funding for Title IV, a pot of funding that can help pay for school safety measures.
  • An additional $50 million for after-school and summer programs.
  • $300 million in additional funding for the 21st Century Community-Oriented Policing Services’ Stop School Violence grant and the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Stop School Violence grant. These two grants are currently funded at $133 million a year, May said. These programs allow schools to apply for funding for physical security upgrades, anonymous reporting systems, behavioral threat assessments and school safety training measures.
  • The bill directs the U.S. Department of Education to coordinate with other federal agencies to assist schools in billing Medicaid to cover services provided at in-school clinics and by schools themselves. The bill also provides an additional $50 million in grants to implement, enhance or expand assistance from school-based entities. May said this assistance refers to community service providers and also telehealth treatments.
  • $500 million each for the school-based mental health services grant program and the school-based mental health services professional demonstration grant. These programs are currently funded at about $10 million each, May said. “So, we’re talking about a huge increase and potential for school-based mental-health programs, which is obviously a huge step in the right direction,” May said.
  • An additional $240 million over four years for Project AWARE, which stands for Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education. May said the state already has received one AWARE grant and she expects a second one can be obtained. Project AWARE is currently funded at $107 million nationally, May said. The new money will include $28 million set aside for school-based responses to student trauma.

May wasn’t sure when the money would be available for grant applications.

Later in the meeting, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder mentioned that many of improvements under consideration for improving school safety cost money.

“Everything boils down to money,” he said.

Actually, sensible gun restrictions would be less costly than major building security upgrades and additional school resources officers. But that’s not a topic the committee is touching with a 10-foot pole, or an assault rifle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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