Fourteen months ago, a mass-casualty shooting at a Florida high school launched a national call for strong school safety measures. The Minnesota Legislature responded with a well-meaning program that fell short of addressing the needs of public schools in the state.

That should not be the situation in this legislative session that is fast approaching a May 20 adjournment deadline.

Efforts are being made at the Capitol to boost school safety funding for public schools, charter schools and intermediate school districts. If proposals become law under Gov. Tim Walz’s education finance bill in the House, schools would receive staggered funding levels in the next two fiscal years.

A year ago, the state’s bonding bill appropriated $25 million in one-time funding. The state received almost 1,200 requests for funding that totaled $250 million. By the time the state selected high-priority requests for consideration, only 123 school safety grants were awarded, utilizing a lottery to select winners. The lottery may have been a randomly fair approach to distribution, but it lacks a much needed focus and universal access to safety funds that all schools need.

The initial Walz education finance proposal tacked on more dollars through the existing safe school-revenue formula. It would be awarded to all districts in the state based on per-pupil units. House and Senate bills have similar provisions. The Walz proposal would provide districts with $5 of per-pupil funding in the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years with a minimum annual funding total for smaller districts. Prior to the governor’s budget revisions, the funding increase was slotted for $9 per pupil in each of the two budget years. Reducing the initial amount of the governor’s proposal from $9 to $5 per pupil is movement in the wrong direction.

Allotting funding in such a manner preserves the ability of local school boards and administrators to plan and carry out high-priority safety projects. We support this authority and encourage passage of the House safe schools funding levels at $9 per pupil in the two-year budget cycle.

There are several state agencies working on keeping schools safe, but we don’t see a unified definition of a safe school or a safe school protocol that parents and others can use to judge the safety of their school. Senate File 177, a bill with bi-partisan authorship, would create district safety assessment teams, including public and parent members, to oversee implementation of school safety policies and needs at the district level. We think this proposal deserves consideration.

In a perfect world, expenditures for hardening of school buildings and training staff and students to deal with a crisis situation would not be needed. But the spate of deadly school shootings proves that is not the case and action by state and local leaders is needed.

Simply throwing money at a problem is not the outcome we would prefer. However, the proposals on the table seem reasonable and if augmented with directives that give local schools needed direction, we are on the right track to making schools safe places for students to learn and flourish.

– An opinion of the Adams Publishing – ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome. Send to: editorial.board@ecm-inc.com.

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