If there is an issue that almost instantly brings together parents, grandparents, legislators, and, yes, even voters, it is safety at public schools.
While other states have seen the tragedy of shootings at public schools, Kansas hasn’t.
And it is that “yet” that spurred the House last session to think up, and the Senate approve, a “Safe and Secure Schools Initiative” that was essentially proof that with all the scrapping over general school budgets, and how those dollars are spent on education and administration and such, it is safety that gets lawmakers and the state moving — quickly — to protect the state’s children.
Remember that? The House Republican leadership proposed the bill, which made $5 million available this year for schools to step up security so that no crazed person can walk into a school building and for any reason start shooting at children.
Sounded simple, in fact, it sounded a little like a public relations effort for Republicans who didn’t want to just pour more money into schools without getting something that they could tout on a campaign palm card and chat about at lunches.
The $5 million was to be used for obviously relatively low-cost school safety efforts, ranging from locks on doors to shatterproof glass on doorways to redirection of visitors through a single school door so they could be checked before they enter. Relatively simple things, but things that school districts might have put off or in a tight budget year, might not have the available cash to get done.
Well, that effort showed, although a little obliquely, just how quickly Kansas state government can get things done.
The bill? It became effective on July 1, when most bills become law.
Amazingly, for us folks who watch the Legislature and state government grind through hearings, meetings, consultations and other delays as a matter of course, by July 16 the State Department of Education had told districts what to do and how and when and send out checks for that safety glass, the locks, the cameras, the other things that deter school violence.
In total, some 156 school districts applied for a part of that $5 million, which they would match with local moneys and make the security improvements that everyone wanted.
Some districts didn’t apply for that security funds boost.
But the amazing part of the program is how quickly that $5 million—worth a total of $10 million in security improvements with the local matches — got out to school districts.
Those state grants? They ranged from $1,043 to Healy School District 468 to $922,613 for Wichita School District 259. Total applications were for more than $13 million, so the grants were pared down, to a maximum of $18.30 per pupil in the district.
Now, there are districts which will want this kind of state aid in the future, and if this first $5 million program’s success is monitored, look for what was a one-time effort to be continued next fiscal year and likely into out-years as well.
It’s a combination of a relatively simple concept—safety for schoolchildren—and the efforts of the State Department of Education moving quickly and efficiently to get that plan executed. Rarely happens in Kansas government.
Look for this successful and inexpensive state effort to be lauded and to be further dissected next legislative session. And that’s where lawmakers have the choice of just funding some more of those grants, or deciding that they want to complicate it, slow it down and take political credit for it.
Things get complicated quickly in the Statehouse. And that’s likely next session…unless lawmakers return to the basic reason for the school security effort. That reason?
Martin Hawver is publisher of
Hawver’s Capitol Report