Pa. approves $60 million for school safety

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a package of budget bills that will provide more money for education, including safety in schools and communities across the state. TIM TAI / Staff Photographer

HARRISBURG — Starting this fall, school districts and community groups can apply for a chunk of $60 million in new funding to improve safety and security on their campuses.

The funding, approved by the legislature Friday and signed into law by Gov. Wolf, was a marquee piece of the $32.7 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 — and comes after another year of fatal school shootings and other violence.

The funding is meant to be proactive and reactive, lawmakers said. School districts can use the money for hiring police officers or school psychologists, adding metal detectors, or paying for violence-prevention programs or other initiatives. Many of the programs are required to take into account how violence and other trauma affects children.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) said school safety funding was the legislature’s “number one priority” in the budget, noting that his own children attend public school.

To distribute the funds, a committee will be established within the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. It will then assess the needs of each district that applies for funding.

“It’s long overdue that we make this investment,” said Rep. Maria Donatucci (D., Phila.) at a news conference Friday.

To ensure the funds are spread evenly, districts can receive no more than 10 percent of the total available funds each year. That includes big school districts, like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Each eligible school district that applies is guaranteed at least $25,000 toward its safety and security. The legislature hopes to add to this fund each year.

Up to 12.5 percent of the funds – totaling about $7.5 million this coming fiscal year – can be dedicated to programs focused on reducing community violence. These support programs include ones that promote communication between communities and law enforcement, provide health services, or increase access to behavioral health care.

This funding is a “hallelujah moment” for the state, said Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D., Phila.).

But some advocates, including the Education Law Center, said they were concerned with how each district will spend the money they receive.

“The additional funds for student safety programs are in response to the nation’s tragic school shootings,” the center said in a release. “But we caution that putting armed personnel in schools is not an appropriate or effective solution to school and community violence. And we have seen too many examples where heightened school policing leads to harsher punitive measures aimed at black and brown students.”

Contact Gillian McGoldrick at gillian@temple.edu.