Republican lawmakers are introducing bills in Congress that would allow unused COVID-19 relief funds to be allocated to improving the security of American schools in response to the Ulvalde, Texas, school shooting.
Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Rep. Mike Garcia (R-CA) are the lead sponsors of the “Safe Schools Act” in the House and Senate. The group of lawmakers say that $150 billion in COVID-19 funding allocated for schools remains unspent and should go toward improving physical security measures.
Sen. Marshall told Fox News that although Congress has made some progress in making schools “stronger, harder, and safer,” there is more that can be done with the relief funding already approved.
He added that the Uvalde tragedy has led many to “play politics,” and now the country agrees that instead Congress “must act to harden schools.” He said the specific legislation now being introduced will do that by diverting unused COVID money to school security nationwide.
If approved, the bill would permit schools that were eligible for relief funding through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) to use previously unspent money on security measures. The money could go toward “locks, panic buttons, individual room security systems, and video surveillance.” Funding could also be used for hiring additional armed school resource officers.
Current ESSER regulations require that money from the fund only be used on expenses that are COVID-19 related.
The proposed bills also include language that could allow schools to implement additional safety measures. Those could include metal detectors and other “deterrent measures.” The bill might also fund emergency notification and response technology inside schools.
The bills could also permit using ESSER money for training programs to reduce student violence and to better prepare law enforcement and school administrators to provide enhanced security. Schools could additionally be provided with “anonymous reporting systems” for threats of violence. Those would include telephone and text hotlines, mobile apps, and web based reporting.
The Republican proposal comes as Democrats have been conducting emergency meetings to prepare their proposed “Protecting Our Kids Act.” That act is a package of eight bills designed to restrict private gun ownership by law-abiding Americans and placing new gun bans or restrictions in place.