Gov. Charlie Baker will request $40 million in legislative funding to beef up school security measures and emergency response training for school officials, saying at a news conference Thursday that in the wake of recent school shootings, including in Uvalde, Tex., “there’s more that we can and should do to keep kids safe.”
“It’s important to be prepared and as school starts up again, to know what resources are being made available,” said Baker, joined by public safety officials, the state education commissioner and his lieutenant governor. “And no child should fear going to school in the morning or feel uncertainty over how safe their building or their classroom is.”
Baker will file the $40 million proposal as a supplemental budget request to the state Legislature. It includes matching grants for security upgrades in K-12 schools and colleges, grants to child care providers for safety measures and emergency planning, money to help districts pilot an anonymous tip line to report potential threats, a “Say Something” public awareness campaign, and a new school safety website that will serve as a one-stop resource.
The proposal, Baker said, builds upon efforts dating back to 2019 with the “Safer Schools and Communities Initiative” that invested $9 million for over 180 school districts to spend on things like exterior door locks, surveillance cameras, school alarms and active shooter detection systems, plus $7 million to enhance mental health supports for schools.
He acknowledged the ongoing training programs between local law enforcement, state police and local school districts, but specifically referenced the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde — in which a gunman killed 19 children, two teachers and wounded many more — as precipitating the need to “finance additional initiatives” to help protect school communities.
“Coming on the heels of a conversation we started having with schools and [Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education] and law enforcement in the aftermath of Uvalde … it took us a while to put together a plan on that,” he said.
Baker also cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a major contributing factor to the need for additional mental health and behavioral supports in schools.
“Our goal over this period of time has not been to just provide more security, infrastructure and technology support, but also to assure that schools and communities have the tools and resources that are necessary to spot signs of trouble before there is trouble,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito added that the proposed $40 million investment would include a new component to allow child care employees to receive emergency response training and allow group or school-based child care programs to add more safety measures.
The Department of Early Education and Care can contract with providers to ensure “uniform response and planning standards,” she said.
“That’s critically important so that if you’re a parent, you’re not just thinking, is this happening in my child care setting or is this something that we can see happen across the state,” Polito said.
State Education Commissioner Jeff Riley also briefly addressed a reporter question about pandemic preparedness plans in the upcoming school year, which for some large school districts around Massachusetts starts as early as next week.
“We’re always monitoring the virus. We continue to work with our doctors,” he said. “We’ve been very clear with our districts that we want them to have a supply of tests and masks on hand in case there is a spike at some point in the winter.
“You know, we have to be ready for anything.”