State has $25 million earmarked for security, but schools need much more

Published 7:04 am Tuesday, August 7, 2018

By Christopher Magan

St. Paul Pioneer Press

The Minnesota Department of Education expects to award at least 50 schools up to $500,000 each this fall to improve building security and safety.

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The $25 million in school safety grants was included in the capital investment, or bonding bill, passed by the Minnesota Legislature in May. Lawmakers signaled they wanted to spend about double that on security improvements but couldn’t reach a deal.

If interest in the grants is any sign, the cash will go fast.

Josh Collins, Department of Education spokesman, said more than 300 people participated in a July 24 online conference to learn more about the grant process.

“I think it confirms what we believed all along: school safety is at the forefront of everyone’s mind right now,” Collins said. He noted the recent school shooting in Florida and subsequent protests by students nationwide to demand safer schools.

The grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis and schools can start submitting their applications Aug. 29. All requests received the first day will be considered by priority while applications submitted after the first day will be considered later.

“School safety grants to support facilities will only begin to address a small fraction of our districts’ school safety needs statewide,” Brenda Cassellius, education commissioner, said in a statement announcing the grants. “As we look toward the coming school year, I call on our state legislators to work with educators, students and parents on more comprehensive solutions, so our kids only think about learning when they go to school.”

School projects will be selected based on priority with proposals like more secure entrances and improved communications systems getting preference over surveillance systems or internal building lockdown equipment. If there are more applicants than available funding, the Aug. 29 submissions will be selected at random.

The state plans to announced the grant recipients Sept. 28. The maximum amount is $500,000, and the $25 million in funding is expected to be split between the metro and Greater Minnesota.

All schools, charters and state academies are eligible.

The funding approved by the Legislature for school safety is tiny compared to the amount of money voters have OK’d in the past few years for school construction projects. Since 2015, Minnesota voters have backed 93 levies for infrastructure projects worth a total of $3.4 billion.

Many of those projects included work to address safety and security concerns.