Lawmakers, budget writers should focus on increasing school safety by Rep. Danny Short

Posted on 06-13-2022

By Rep. Danny Short

Published on Bay to Bay on 6/12/22

Following the tragic events at Robb Elementary in Texas, there has been a renewed emphasis on keeping our kids safe.

Many lawmakers, on both the federal and state levels, have defaulted to their established agendas, proposing laws to restrict firearm ownership.

Gun-control proposals are controversial and divisive. Regardless of the relative merits of each measure, they tend to be only tangentially focused on what should be our ultimate objective — keeping our schools secure and our children and educators safe from harm.

Instead of unilaterally promoting a package of partisan legislation, we offer the following suggestions that all lawmakers should be able to fully support:

Appropriate money to the Delaware School Safety and Security Fund

The Delaware School Safety and Security Fund was created several years ago to provide partial or full funding to school districts, vocational-technical schools and charter schools for projects to improve safety or security. More than a dozen categories are highlighted in the law, ranging from active-shooter training to the installation of magnet security systems and access card equipment.

The initial appropriation for this initiative was $5 million. This should again be fully funded.

Enact House Bill 388 — school constables

Sponsored by state Reps. Kevin Hensley, R-Townsend, and Rae Moore, D-Middletown, this bipartisan act would expand the scope of the Delaware School Safety and Security Fund to authorize school districts to use these appropriations to initially hire and retain school constables. Typically staffed by retired law enforcement personnel, constables act as both peacekeepers and armed security for the schools in which they work.

This measure has been pending action in the House Education Committee since late April. The bill currently has no fiscal note (cost to taxpayers) because it seeks only to expand the use of the existing Delaware School Safety and Security Fund. It should be released from the committee and enacted.

Survey all public schools; identify needs; finance construction

The security of Delaware schools has been significantly upgraded over the last decade, but there is room for improvement. Lawmakers regularly visit schools, and this experience has revealed that the security of these facilities is inconsistent.

I call for setting aside $100 million in a new school security capital fund. The fund would initially finance a comprehensive review of every public school in the state, citing what improvements were needed at each site to harden it to meet or exceed a sufficient security threshold. The fund would then finance these projects as they are identified, shortening the time frame for all schools to meet the standard.

Enact House Bill 423 — reestablishing state background checks

Background checks are currently required for purchasing firearms in Delaware. These checks are currently performed by federal officials, but that system has proven to be overburdened and lacking. This bipartisan bill would reestablish a state-based system for background checks, which would not only include the federal database but other databases, as well. The result would be faster and more thorough background checks.

Form a task force to explore the use of information technology to detect high-risk individuals

One lesson we have learned from mentally ill individuals that have been responsible for committing mass murders is that they have often hoisted their own warning flags through public social media posts. I propose forming a nonpartisan task force to determine the feasibility of leveraging information technology for detecting high-risk individuals through these public pronouncements. Many employers, including major professional sports leagues, already conduct such checks as part of their due diligence in the hiring/drafting process. While this approach has potential pitfalls, it costs us nothing to explore the issue given the potential promise it holds for preemptively determining if an individual poses a threat or needs help.

As of the latest state revenue forecast, there is $6.48 billion in revenue available for the new fiscal year that begins on July 1. There is no reason all of the aforementioned proposals cannot be fully funded and receive the support of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and be signed into law by Gov. John Carney.

These proposals will result in rapid, tangible improvements in school security and increase the level of safety for everyone learning and working inside these facilities.

Rep. Danny Short, R-Seaford, is the minority leader in the House of Representatives.