Commentary: Indiana should continue full funding of school safety grants
By Hank Nuwer
A couple weeks ago I represented the families of the Virginia Tech shooting rampage as a speaker at the College and University Police Investigators Conference (CUPIC) sponsored by George Mason University.
The VTV families, understandably concerned about school safety, three years ago formed the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative (32 NCSI) to form a think tank of national experts in school shootings, alcohol abuse, sexual assault, hazing, on and on.
In the interest of disclosure, I was the Think Tank’s pro bono hazing expert, having written books and scholarly papers on the topic, as well as speaking on campuses from Maine to Oregon. The team of 32 NCSI experts came up with best campus safety policies and practices that all colleges can tap into for no charge to shore up deficiencies. Those policies and practices were revealed by 32 NCSI on Aug. 13, and the press coverage gained commentary in The New York Times and other outlets.
Ironically, after I returned to Indiana from the conference, which had impressed me with the collective strong and urgent message that school safety is neither inexpensive nor expendable, I learned that the Hoosier state has slashed its school-safety budget by more than 50 percent.
Indiana’s state government had earmarked a healthy budget for school safety officers and campus safety equipment (such as surveillance cameras) right after the Sandy Hook carnage in 2012. The money subsequently was released to schools in the form of matching grants.
The project was the brainchild of Gov. Mike Pence, and he deserves credit for making Hoosier schools arguably safer in 2012. The governor hasn’t much chance of convincing voters he’s improved the educational quality of Indiana schools, but he can point to his leadership in 2012 with a sense of pride.
This year, had he lobbied once again to continue the school safety grants without cuts, he could have won points with re-election campaign voters for using state tax dollars to keep Indiana schools safe and relatively crime free.
Instead, the Pence administration slashed and burned its school safety commitment by about half.
True, Pence’s supporters will argue a half-glass in grant support for school safety is better than no grant moneys at all.
However, the grieving Virginia Tech families would counter that Indiana’s allocating around 50 percent fewer matching grant dollars is hardly comforting to parents who send their children to schools where bullying, hazing and outright violence with fists and weapons oft are common behaviors.
Behaviors best stopped by trained and licensed security specialists with law enforcement experience.
Should Indiana ever experience the ghastly and unforgivable massacres that devastated schools in states such as Virginia, Colorado and Connecticut, you can reasonably expect that Indiana’s lawmakers will find the moneys for school safety equipment and a big increase in hiring school safety officers.
So how did this budget cut happen anyway?
The school-safety budget cuts in 2015 were engineered by the State Budget Agency and by House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville.
To date, Gov. Mike Pence has stayed mum.
However, he does believe in spending money for security measures. Voters know this because he has lobbied for the Budget Committee to allocate nearly $1 million for fortified Statehouse doors.
I personally have no objection to spending the money to ensure that our lawmakers work in safety, but I do want the halls of our schools to be similarly protected.
“It is not our intention for anyone to lose their grant for school resource officers,” Brown said in a statement.
No, that isn’t the intention perhaps, but with a budget cut that massive, schools clearly won’t find it as easy to field a topnotch security force.
Here’s hoping that Rep. Brown and the State Budget Committee and Gov. Pence restore the matching grant dollars back to 2014 levels of support.
There was a lot of hand wringing and finger pointing at the security police and administration at then-clearly underprepared Virginia Tech University the day 32 students and faculty paid the ultimate price for that lack of preparation.
Indiana schools need not and must not be similarly underprepared.
Hank Nuwer, a Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism professor, frequently is called upon by national media to address hazing and other school safety issues.