AG Derek Schmidt announces public safety plan to improve school security and reduce armed violence in Kansas communities

TOPEKA – (June 7, 2022) – Kansas Attorney General and Republican candidate for Governor Derek Schmidt today announced a public-safety plan to improve school security and reduce armed violence in Kansas communities.

Schmidt’s plan features six specific measures:

• Double funding for the Safe & Secure Schools grant program;
• Hire, train and retain more School Resource Officers (SROs);
• Provide more mental-health professionals for schools by continuing to expand the Mental Health Intervention Team (MHIT) program until it is available to all school districts;
• Seek authority to use existing federal coronavirus funds for school-safety needs;
•Promote awareness in schools and among students of how and when to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) about potential school threats;
• Enact the Reduce Armed Violence Act.

Schmidt issued the following statement with the announcement of the plan:

“Kansas kids deserve to feel safe in our communities and especially in our schools. The Legislature has already led the way with commonsense, proven programs to make schools safer. We need leadership to keep us moving forward.

“Kansans have recently seen firsthand how important well-trained School Resource Officers can be for school safety. This plan helps more schools have a School Resource Officer and a Mental Health Intervention Team to protect students, provides funds to assist local school districts in securing facilities, improves our ability to discover threats before they are carried out, and strengthens penalties for gun crimes committed by repeat violent felons. It’s an overall approach that should garner a bipartisan consensus.

“I look forward to discussing the plan with Kansas voters and, as governor, working with the Legislature to enact each provision next year.”

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Double funding for the Safe & Secure Schools grant program

BACKGROUND: For each of five years (FY 2019-2023), the Legislature has created and funded Safe & Secure School grants at $5 million per year to help local schools improve security. In FY 2021, no funds were available to schools because Governor Laura Kelly cut funding after it was approved. In FY 2022, no funds were available to schools because the Department of Education determined federal coronavirus funds could not be used for that purpose. At no time in those five years has the governor’s budget proposal requested funds for this school-safety program initiated by the Legislature. 

PROPOSAL: In January 2023, formally ask the Legislature to double funding for the Safe & Secure School grants program by adding $5 million more funding for the current year (FY 2023) and increasing to $10 million per year for FY 2024 so more schools will have resources to make needed security upgrades and changes and to hire and retain School Resource Officers (SROs).

Hire, train and retain more School Resource Officers (SROs)

BACKGROUND: For more than a decade, the Attorney General’s Office has provided funding to support the annual training conference for the Kansas Juvenile Officers Association and also has provided annual travel funding to help local police departments and sheriff’s offices send school-based officers to specialized training opportunities.

PROPOSAL: Make the expanded Safe & Secure Schools grants more flexible to share the cost of hiring, training & retaining more SROs for more schools.

Provide more mental-health professionals for schools by continuing to expand the Mental Health Intervention Team (MHIT) program until it is available to all school districts

BACKGROUND: In FY 2019, the Legislature established a pilot program to establish Mental Health Intervention Teams as partnerships between nine school districts and their local community mental health centers (CMHC). In FY 2022, $7.5 million is provided for this program that has expanded to 43 school districts, and an approved increase to $10.5 million in FY 2023 will expand it to an estimated 15-25 more districts (depending on district size).

PROPOSAL: Continue to expand this program to provide mental-health services for students until it is available to all school districts throughout the state.

Seek federal authority to use existing coronavirus funds for school-safety needs

BACKGROUND: The federal government has provided school districts with an unprecedented amount of emergency funding to help address needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A large amount of those federal funds remain unspent nationwide and may need to be returned to the federal government if unused. In Kansas alone, the amount of unspent COVID-19 federal funding held by schools was roughly $1 billion at the end of March. The federal government imposes restrictions on how these funds may be used. 

PROPOSAL: Work with the Kansas congressional delegation to ease federal restrictions and obtain permission from the federal government for schools to use already-appropriated federal funds intended for coronavirus response to address school-safety needs, including hiring school-based officers, making security modifications to buildings, supporting MHITs, and other local security needs.

Promote awareness in schools/among students of how and when to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) about potential school threats

BACKGROUND: In 2019, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation partnered with the Kansas State Department of Education to expand the Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) criminal intelligence program to address school threats. Any person – students, teachers, staff, parents, administrators, or other persons – can and should file a SAR online if they have information about a potential threat to a school. This report is not a substitute for calling 911 if faced with an imminent threat, but it is a method for signs of potential threats to be identified. Since the partnership launched, 38 SARs have been classified as school threat tips. 

PROPOSAL: In partnership with public and private school leadership, continue to promote the SARs reporting program so its existence is more-widely known and persons with information about potential threats are likely to use it.

Enact the Reduce Armed Violence Act

BACKGROUND: In February, Attorney General Derek Schmidt proposed House Bill 2657, the Reduce Armed Violence Act. The legislation would require that convicted felons who illegally possess firearms while committing new violent felonies be sentenced to prison for the weapons charge in addition to any penalty for the new violent felony they have committed. The sentence for the weapons violation would be served consecutively to any other sentence the person receives for the underlying violent crime and would range from 7 months to 23 months of incarceration depending on the offender’s criminal history. 

PROPOSAL: In January 2023, formally ask the Legislature to enact the Reduce Armed Violence Act.

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