COLUMBIA, Mo. - Three months after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at least ten state governments have passed or seriously considered hundreds of millions of dollars in appropriations to school safety improvements.
From building upgrades, to school resource officers, to mental health programs, the strategies are different, but the goal is the same; to keep every child as safe as possible regardless of the size of the school district.
Here in mid-Missouri, the Columbia Public Schools district approved a $750,000 expenditure into new safety and security upgrades and Jefferson City has earmarked more than $400,000 in upgrades and maintenance.
Following the deadly shooting at in Florida in February, the federal government took up and passed a $1.2 billion measure to fund grant programs aimed at boosting security in public schools.
Missouri does not designate any funds specifically for school safety or security, instead leaving it to the local municipalities to fund it out of the operating budget, or successfully pass a bond issue.
“There isn’t a whole lot of legislation as to what schools must do,” John Warner with the Missouri Center for Education Safety. “There’s a lot of guidance as to what schools SHOULD do or what they would LIKE to see them do.”
Warner said budget restrictions can sometimes make it difficult for smaller districts to meet those suggestions.
“It’s hard to talk school safety with some schools and not bust their budget,” said Warner. “It would be great if the state could support some of that and funding school safety for some of the schools.”
One such district is Osage County R-1 in Chamois, a single campus district with fewer than 200 students enrolled.
Superintendent Lyle Best says R-1 is constantly evaluating its evolving safety needs, but is forced to consider what it can afford first.
“There only is so much money to go around so sometimes it has to be taken from another area to be applied toward school security,” said Best.
Warner said this reality is common for many of Missouri’s rural school districts.
More than two-thirds of the state’s school districts have fewer than 1,000 students enrolled.
“Schools do what they can. They do the best that they can in putting the safety process together for their districts,” said Warner.
Frank Underwood is the safety and security coordinator for Jefferson City Public Schools.
One of the largest district in mid-Missouri, JCPS has periodically reevaluated and upgraded security measures.
This year, a survey was sent to parents and stakeholders to collect input on school safety issues.
Some education officials and lawmakers do not believe safety funding should be handled at the state level.
“If it means state funding at the expense of the foundation formula, then no, I don’t think that would be a good answer,” said Superintendent Matt Miller of Moberly Public Schools. “With money, comes expectations. So, there’s going to be an expectation of safety that’s going to be uniform across the state when maybe that’s not the same need in each community. That’s one of the good things about having local control.”
Whether Missouri decides to approved funding for school safety or not, Warner says there’s no quick fix.
“That’s what a lot of people are looking for it something that will fix this problem right now,” said Warner. “It takes planning, it takes process, it takes people working together.”