INDIANAPOLIS — The state's schools chief is pleased Hoosier lawmakers significantly increased school safety funding in Indiana's new, two-year budget that takes effect July 1.
But Jennifer McCormick, the Republican state superintendent of public instruction, also is concerned the funds may be spread too thin, given the numerous additional ways the Republican-controlled General Assembly is allowing the money to be spent.
House Enrolled Act 1001, signed into law last month by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, appropriates $19 million a year to the Secured School Fund for grants to local school corporations supporting building safety improvements, safety personnel and other programs, such as active shooter training, safety technology and social, emotional and mental health services.
That's more than double the $9 million a year in the 2017-18 state budget. Though the 2018 amount was increased to $14 million, using one-time funds, following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, that killed 17 students and staff members.
"We appreciate any new funds," McCormick told reporters Monday. "But you have a pool of applicants that just got much larger."
Specifically, House Enrolled Act 1004 permits school safety grants of up to $100,000, instead of the current $50,000 maximum.
It also allows every private school, except virtual schools, to request funding on the same basis as the state's public and charter schools.
McCormick said she has no problem with the law now treating students in every Indiana school the same when it comes to state school safety grants.
At the same time, McCormick believes charter schools and private schools ought to be held to the same standards as public schools in terms of having mandatory school safety specialists on staff and audited school safety plans on file.
"To us, it doesn't matter what type of school you're in, school safety is always a concern," McCormick said.
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Also concerning to her is a new requirement that school corporations provide a 50% or 100% match to receive a state school safety grant.
McCormick said in many districts, particularly those with declining enrollment, there simply isn't any extra money to put toward a match, which she fears may lead to safety funds going to the least-needy districts.
"Districts are starting to voice concern about will that equate to the haves and the have-nots for school safety," McCormick said. "To be determined."
She noted that funding equity concerns could be further exacerbated by Senate Enrolled Act 127, which allows school districts to seek voter approval for a temporary, local property tax hike to fund school safety improvements.
McCormick suggested that a better course would be for the state to take the lead in even more generously funding school safety initiatives.
"It doesn't matter if you're running a hospital, it doesn't matter if you're running a Statehouse or a schoolhouse — safety is expensive," she said.
"So for us to pretend like it's not, or try to rationalize minimal dollars, doesn't seem like that makes a whole of sense for a state."
On the other hand, the governor said he's confident the extra funds in the state budget will ensure Hoosier schools are better prepared for whatever may come along.
"Every student, teacher and staff member deserves a safe school," Holcomb said.