Op-Ed: Stepping into a Safer School Year

As kids across Pennsylvania say goodbye to summer and prepare for the academic year ahead, school districts are identifying ways to make buildings and classrooms safer for their return – thanks to an historic boost in state funding for school safety and mental health resources.

The last time I wrote about this issue in May, the legislature had yet to cement a budget plan, but I vowed to advocate for increased school safety funding.  Not only has the governor continually proposed cutting these funds in his budgets, but school attacks across our nation remind us that we must be proactive and not wait for such an act to happen in one of our own schools.

I have spent my entire Senate career fighting for a holistic approach to school security, including spearheading the creation of the School Safety and Security Committee (SSSC) and establishing training requirements for school security personnel.

Therefore, I am pleased to report that we appropriated $200 million in the 2022-23 budget to be distributed to schools across the Commonwealth, and most significantly, tied the funding to baseline criteria for physical security and behavioral health.

These standards, established by the SSSC, are spread across three different tiers and include recommendations such as vehicle barriers around playgrounds, security cameras on busses and all building entry doors, full-time psychologists and social workers, as well as trained school security personnel.

Up until now, schools could determine how they used their grant dollars, but with this year’s funding, they must first meet the Tier 1 baseline criteria before being able to use it to implement strategies in Tiers 2 and 3.

This accountability requirement balances the need for each school to implement a tailored security plan while still conforming to a statewide benchmark that doesn’t leave our students at the mercy of elected school board officials and superintendents, many of whom have conflicting ideas about school safety best practices.

As a former U.S. Marshal, I implemented security plans for federal buildings in 33 counties across the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The steps I believe schools should take are not only derived from over two decades of this personal experience, but also from consultation with former colleagues who are globally recognized experts in the field of building security.

The U.S. and State Departments of Education, as well as many school districts, have taken significant and worthwhile steps to prevent tragedy from striking and to mitigate the loss of life, should an incident occur. But we would be mistaken to assume that what has been done thus far is enough when it comes to prevention and preparedness.

Let’s also not forget that in Pennsylvania, two students separated by nothing more than a township line can find themselves attending different schools with dramatically different standards of protection and resources.  This is not fair to them or their families, who should be confident they are sending their students to a safe, well-protected school.

While my personal background lends itself to building security, I would be remiss if I did not also recognize that ensuring mental health resources for our students is just as important for addressing school safety and security. 

This unprecedented level of funding, which provides $100 million for school safety and security grants and $100 million for mental health grants, and the requirement to meet specific benchmarks will level the playing field and ensure children from Erie to Philadelphia and everywhere in between receive adequate protection and support to thrive academically and socially.

Senator Mike Regan represents Pennsylvania’s 31st Senatorial District covering parts of Cumberland and York Counties.

CONTACT: Bruce McLanahan, 717-787-8524

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