School violence initiatives debated
A rash of shootings in schools across the country convinced Congress and President Clinton to address the school violence issue last year. As a result, the 1999 budget Congress approved in late October includes a number of new initiatives that should get attention from the White House and Capitol Hill this year. In addition, President Clinton has promised to seek reforms, such as a major rewrite of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Act, during this session of Congress.
It will not be easy. Republicans were unhappy when Clinton announced a number of programs at the White House conference on school violence on Oct. 14, a few weeks before the 1998 elections. Rep. Bill Goodling (Rep Pa.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, called the sudden initiatives “an attempt to pander during an election year.” Goodling also said that, if Clinton were really serious about stopping school gangs and shootings, he would support the Republican omnibus juvenile justice bills, which the White House has opposed.
Still, Congress authorized one of the announced initiatives. That initiative would allow police departments to use money they get from the Justice Department’s office of community-oriented policing services (COPS) to hire up to 2,000 school-based resource officers. Currently, local police departments can use COPS grant money to defray up to $75,000 over three years of the cost of hiring a new officer. The police department has to provide a $25,000 match. Under the new program, which is targeted at the 10 percent of school districts considered the country’s most dangerous, the local police department can defray up to $125,000 over three years with no match requirement.
The program ended up passing Congress as part of the “Safe Streets Act” sponsored by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R Colo.). Under that law, $60 million will be available to fund resource officers in 1999.
Although the COPS program passed, a number of the Clinton-announced initiatives were sketchy on details and, therefore, delayed. For example, Project SERV, a $12 million emergency response fund for school disasters, would offer money to help communities meet urgent and unplanned needs such as additional security personnel, emergency mental health crisis counseling and long-term counseling to students, faculty and families. One Education Department official, however, acknowledges that Clinton expects the $12 million to be funded out of that agency’s fiscal 1999 budget, which makes no provision for the initiative.
The same is true for the Safe Schools and Safe Communities Initiative, a $25 million program, again funded with fiscal 1999 money, that is designed to help 10 cities implement community-wide school safety plans. Again, education officials have not determined the source of the funds. Some of the money will come from the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, which has a fiscal 1999 budget of $606 million. However, the act is up for reauthorization in 1999, and some House Education Committee members have questioned how well that budget is being spent. Both the Department of Education and the Clinton Administration have proposed changes in the program.
Despite the uncertain status of many school violence initiatives proposed in 1998, one major school violence initiative did make it out of Congress with the funding necessary for its implementation. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration got $40 million for a program designed to provide school-based counseling for children deemed at-risk of violent behavior.