Dayton Offers $21 Million Plan to Enhance School Safety
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday proposed $21 million in new funding for security enhancements and mental health improvements in Minnesota schools, the latest response to renewed concern about student safety after the deadly Florida school shooting.
Dayton, a Democrat, said the money could help pay for improvements such as bulletproof glass and secure entrances as well as hire more counselors or school resource officers. Furnished by the state’s $329 million budget surplus, the $16 million dedicated school security fund would allow school districts to utilize funding to make whatever enhancements they see fit.
“We have over 2,400 school buildings in Minnesota, and probably each situation is unique,” Dayton said. “The tragedies that have happened in Florida and elsewhere are a grim warning to us that we need to do more, we need to be ever more vigilant to protect the safety of our students.”
School safety has been thrust into the spotlight since the deadly school shooting in Florida that killed 17 students and staff on Feb. 14. And though similar tragedy hasn’t touched Minnesota, anxiety is running high after a slew of recent threats at schools, including a six-hour lockdown at public schools in Orono last month.
“We were prepared and we have best practices in place, but we need more,” Orono schools superintendent Karen Orcutt said. “We need to give more support to schools with safety and security needs.”
Dayton’s proposal also would boost grants to schools for mental health programs. And it would ensure that school districts adequately track expelled students, and share information on those students with other schools across the state. The teenager who shot and killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida had been expelled from Marjorty Stoneman Douglas High School.
Boosting school security is a rare area of agreement between the Democratic governor and Republican-controlled Legislature, where lawmakers have already laid out plans to create new funds — or repurpose existing accounts — for safety improvements. Though they haven’t yet put dollar figures on how much to devote, House Education Finance committee chairwoman Rep. Jenifer Loon said they would likely tap into the budget surplus.
“I haven’t talked to a person who doesn’t want to give schools the resources they need to try to do the best they can to ensure our children’s safety. Everyone wants to do that,” Loon said.
With gun laws again under scrutiny nationwide, Dayton is separately calling for stricter laws like expanding background checks, raising the age to buy assault weapons to 21 and creating a legal avenue for police and family members to temporarily revoke guns from a person who may harm themselves or others. But those measures face stiff odds in the GOP Legislature — a House committee has already turned back Democrat-backed two such bills.
Dayton deemed that legislation necessary but said he didn’t want it to derail a bipartisan compromise on school safety.
“The Legislature has already indicated they aren’t going to go anywhere,” Dayton said of gun-related bills. “Which is really shameful, but it is reality.”