How will the legislature fund new initiatives on school safety?

Whenever there is a high-profile event, not even necessarily in Minnesota, there are ripples felt at the state capitol. The Parkland FL High School shooting was one of those kinds of events. High School Students are protesting at the capitol in large numbers, in at least one case bussed in by their school district.

The students are part of national effort to change gun laws, but Governor Dayton has already conceded that there is unlikely to be any movement on that front this session given the strength of support for the 2nd Amendment in the Republican controlled house and senate.

So the focus has changed to School Safety. Last week Governor Dayton rolled out his ideas, and some bills have already been introduced:

Dayton Plan

  • $15M for improvements to school buildings and early intervention for troubled students.
  • $5 M Grants for school-based mental health services.
  • Gun law changes not part of the package.
  • The money would come from the Budget Surplus.

Legislative Plans

Republican: HF 3320 (Loon)/ SF 3229 (Anderson, P.)

  • Allow Districts to reallocate their long-term facilities maintenance accounts (for things like roof replacement) to finance safety upgrades. Currently, this fund is not allowed to be used for new construction or substantial remodeling.
  • Could be used for things like security doors, cameras, emergency communication devices.

DFL: HF 2958 (Wiger) SF2507 (Fischer)

  • Allow Districts to raise their "Safe Schools" Levy limits.
  • Include cybersecurity in the definition of school safety.

It's likely that the compromise package will have elements of all of these bills.

Regarding the raising of levy limits--the Taxpayers League opposed the law change in 2012 that allowed school boards to decide on levies without taking it to the voters. At least there is still a local consent aspect here, and it uses local money to decide what needs to be done if anything. If a levy limit increase passes, watch for the discussion and vote at your local school board.

School Security is a complex topic, and not all schools will decide to make improvements if they already have new buildings with adequate security. Some may decide that they don't need equipment but want to update policy. Others may hire security or resource staff. If the legislature is going to allow more taxpayer money to be spent on school safety, a more flexible approach is needed. NOT throwing millions of dollars at a problem, the scope of which is ill-defined.

There are other ways keep accountability part of the process, such as sunsetting provisions so that after a cycle of security enhancements has been completed, districts would have to come before the legislature again to argue for keeping it in place and to demonstrate that the funds have been used effectively. 

It's also unclear whether school districts need new money at all for this particular purpose. So far, the Loon/Anderson proposal is the best one to allow school districts the budgetary flexibility to re-prioritize if they feel the need.

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