Lawmakers continue working on school safety

Senate Education Committee Chair Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, comments during an update of the 2019 School Safety and Resiliency Act in the committee.

Last year, in the wake of the deadly Marshall County shooting, legislators passed the School Safety and Resiliency Act (Senate Bill 1). This year, legislators are working to strengthen the act and to find efficient ways to fund its requirements.

The School Safety and Resiliency Act outlined standards for Kentucky schools that, when in place, would improve the safety, as well as the physical and mental health of students.

This year, legislators revisited the act by creating Senate Bill 8. SB 8, which passed in the Senate and the House, makes various adjustments to the School Safety and Resiliency Act of 2019. The bill is now headed to Gov. Andy Beshear.

"I think Senate Bill 8 just strengthens the work of Senate Bill 1 because it continues to create a standard for security and training to better help secure safety in our schools," said one major sponsor, Senator Max Wise (R-Campbellsville).

There are several systematic items that the bill addresses like ensuring the Kentucky Department of Education collaborates with the Kentucky Center for School Safety and the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council to create active shooter training and videos.

It also clarifies items relating to school resource officers like stating the need for at least one SRO per defined "campus" rather than "school" that will be armed with a firearm.

There are other key aspects of the bill, however, one that Senator Wise noted in particular was its focus on student connection.

"One thing that's not been talked about the most but that I think is most important is student connection: the goal of one adult to 250 students as it relates to our school-based mental health services," he said.

This part is noteworthy because of its holistic approach and its expansiveness compared to Senate Bill. The new language makes schools less restricted to guidance counselors alone when looking to mental health providers. That expansion is crucial because it opens up a new way to fund elements of the act.

In November 2019, Kentucky was approved to expand school-based services to include mental health. This means that school districts can utilize federal Medicaid dollars to provide these services to all Medicaid eligible students. In addition, health services that are offered are required to be available to all students for free.

Kentucky Youth Advocate Mahak Kalra used her expertise to make the Kentucky Cabinet aware of this option.

"This opportunity creates a sustainable funding source to hire much needed qualified health professionals to meet the school-based health provider requirement," she said.

Although this discovery is predicted to be a great relief on the state and its school districts, there's still a long way to go.

The Kentucky School Boards Association has estimated that they will need $18 million for infrastructure improvements and at least $121 million each year for resource officers and counselors to comply with the School Safety and Resiliency Act.

"Although it is a priority and protects our most precious citizens, this is a huge expense," said Representative Regina Huff (R-Williamsburg).

Rep. Huff mentioned Gov. Andy Beshear's budget address and his intention to fund the act in steps.

"I think the House Budget will do more in the way of funding than his newly released budget," she said.

Though most legislators have voiced support of the School Safety and Resiliency Act, it's state funding for this year is uncertain.

"This is not going to be a one-time budget need. This is going to be something we will have to look at for several budgets down the road," said Sen. Wise.

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