Creativity: The Best Kept Secret to Funding Campus Security

School districts and institutions of higher learning that are inventive can use grant programs like i3 or TAACCCT to support their comprehensive security initiatives.

Our nation’s schools and universities aren’t strangers to violence. Although we have not forgotten the tragedies of Columbine or Virginia Tech, somehow we went back to business as usual a few years after the memories of these tragedies faded. Then came December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., which appears to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Now, more than ever, we have to figure this out. Whether we are sending our children off to primary, elementary or high school, or whether we are sending our young adult children off to college, their safety is our top priority.

As a result of Newtown, the federal government and states are zeroed in on what it takes to make our schools and universities safer. Policies, programs and potential funding streams are being proposed to help the cause. According to an analysis completed by Education Week, more than 450 bills related to school safety have been filed since the incident in Newtown. Of course, not all of these will pass or result in funding, but they do show a country-wide focus on addressing the need.

In January, President Obama released “Now is the Time” — his plan to protect children and communities from gun violence. It proposes that schools are made safer in two ways: by “enhancing their physical security and ensuring that they are prepared to respond to emergencies” and by “creating safer and more nurturing school environments.”  

Around the same time, “The School and Campus Safety Enhancements Act of 2013” was introduced in the Senate. It passed out of committee in April. Likewise, the “School Safety Enhancements Act of 2013” was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in April. The Senate version of the bill aims to “enhance the safety of America’s schools,” while the House version would specifically “amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to enhance the safety of America’s schools.” Both bills aim to set up a grant program through which grants would be provided to local communities and schools throughout the United States to improve safety within the schools.

While there are some funds aimed specifically at security, they are not plentiful enough to take care of all of the security needs of our country’s schools and universities. That said, the promise of funds gives us a glimmer of hope.

DOJ, HHS Grants Offer Some Opportunities

President Obama’s 2014 request includes investments that could be coordinated with related proposals from the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services. This collaborative approach is a common theme among grant and funding initiatives over the past few years. Funding proposals include School Climate Transformation Grants ($150 million), emergency management planning funding ($30 million) and Project Prevent community-focused grants ($25 million). With that being said, if you consider the number of schools and school districts across the country, this funding will only provide a start and not a comprehensive solution, as it is simply not enough money.

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In the midst of all this, what about colleges and universities? Higher education is only mentioned once in the “Now is the Time” publication. This is an indication that colleges and universities are going to have to be more creative than ever as they work to find solutions to their security challenges.

In addition to fewer funding opportunities for security that provide less-than-adequate resources to go around, schools and universities are faced with a number of other challenges. Educators at all levels must develop and graduate college- and career-ready students in a challenging economy where they will have to compete globally for fewer high paying jobs. Keeping up with advances in technology for learning while maintaining staff and programs are overwhelming, even before we consider security.

But security is on the radar in K-12 for sure. Additionally, at the higher education level, the January 2013 of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Higher Education Policy Brief listed Guns on Campus as No. 8 on their list of the Top 10 Higher Education State Policy Issues for 2013. Clearly this translates to concerns about security for these entities.

Look Closely at i3 and TAACCCT Grant Programs

So, what is the solution? The funding for security might be right under your nose, hiding somewhere so obvious that you never even thought to look there. 

Let’s start with a funding example that is fairly well-known: Investing in Innovation or i3. This fund is a competitive grant that comes out of the U.S. Department of Education with the goal of expanding the implementation of and investment in innovative practices that are demonstrated to have an impact on student achievement/growth, closing achievement gaps, decreasing dropout rates, increasing high school graduation rates, and increasing college enrollment and completion. Eligible applicants for i3 are either a local education agency or a non-profit organization in partnership with either one or more local education agency or a consortium of schools. 

So, what does this have to do with funding security solutions? Because of the strong focus on achievement, many don’t realize that i3 funds can be used to purchase products and services. This includes, but is not limited to, hardware, print, professional development and infrastructure. In fact, there is some language in the FAQ documents indicating that some additional uses of funds may be appropriate:

“A local education agency applicant may propose to use i3 funds for modernization, renovation or repair projects to the extent that these projects are consistent with implementing its proposed i3 project. As provided in section 14003 of the ARRA, a local education agency may use ARRA funds for construction. This rule applies whether the local education agency is a grantee or subgrantee under the i3 program. However, consistent with its May 11, 2009, guidance for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund program, the department discourages local education agencies from using i3 funds for construction.”

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