Dual school safety measures proposed by lawmakers in the Michigan House and Senate would provide a modest grant fund to pay for enhanced building security in schools across the state, but neither plan includes money to boost mental health supports that many educators say are most needed.
The Michigan House this week is debating a package of school safety proposals that would distribute $25 million through grants to schools for building security enhancements, in addition to creating bureaucratic oversight through the State Police Department.
The House plan, comprised of HB 5828-30 and 5851-52, would create a School Safety Commission to inspect schools and issue school safety “grades” for all buildings that would include badges and seals for schools to display if they have received the highest rating – an idea opposed by many school groups, including MEA.
Another controversial aspect of the House plan would require all schools built after Jan. 1, 2019, to include metal detectors.
Last week, the state Senate approved its own $18.6 school safety plan that would fund a grant program for both public and private schools to apply for security improvements; $3 million for an app that provides emergency notifications to police and school employees; and money to upgrade the anonymous threat tipline, OK2Say.
The Senate’s plan does not include a state-wide commission to oversee school safety.
The Senate package was supported by Democrats, though many said it did not go far enough. The Republican-dominated chamber rejected an amendment by Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint) to add $50 million to the fund and eliminate a requirement that schools provide a 25 percent match for larger grants.
In April, Senate Democrats had proposed a $100 million school safety plan to help districts hire more counselors, social workers, and school resource officers. Those bills have not received a hearing.
Michigan has the third worst counselor-to-student ratio in the nation, according to the American School Counselor Association.
The plan proposed by Democrats also included proposals to require universal background checks for gun purchases; close a loophole that allows people with concealed weapons permits to openly carry guns in schools; and create an extreme risk protection order allowing a judge to order law enforcement to confiscate weapons from a person found to be a danger.
In the House, where debate is expected this week, Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) told the Associated Press the plan’s mandates for metal detectors and surveillance systems ignore the real needs in schools.
“Instead of creating a prison environment, we should be creating a supportive environment in schools,” Rabhi said. “What would make schools safer is if we invest money in hiring social workers and hiring psychologists.”