OXFORD, Mich. – In the year since the Oxford High School shooting, how much gets spent on overall school safety has become a hot-button issue. In new numbers obtained by Local 4 from Michigan State Police, 150 public and private schools spent millions in state grants on security in 2022.
They have spent around $850 thousand on emergency response like panic systems and trauma supplies, $2.3 million on communications like PA systems or two-way radios, and $6.8 million on hardening schools. Things like new exterior doors, classroom doors, and access control.
In districts like Northville, they recently gave officers in three surrounding police departments entrance key fobs to react quickly to a threat.
“The most explicit example that I can give is a combination of grants for school resource officers,” said Northville Public Schools Superintendent Dr. R.J. Webber.
But those numbers pale in comparison to previous years. Those same numbers from MSP showed in 2018 and 2019 that the state spent $50 million on improving school security before the budget was slashed in 2020 and then stopped in 2021 because of the pandemic, even though schools requested more than $23 million that year to make their schools safer.
According to legislative estimates, since Oxford, the state lawmakers have set aside more than a half billion dollars for school safety. But that money has been coming through grants or leaving schools to fend for themselves without a state list or hub for best practices or state-trusted contractors. The other big problem is the money hasn’t been getting to schools quickly.
“I don’t think anything is ever fast enough when we talk about the safety and well-being of the kids that we serve, the teachers that we serve, the families that we serve,” Webber said.
Webber says the next step in safety funding should be on real mental health safety, not just hardening schools.
“The emphasis is on how we prevent a student or person from doing the unthinkable,” Webber said. “Very rarely do we hear people talk about the collateral damage that has been caused by years of gun violence. Rarely do we really explicitly name that we have elementary school children waking up in the middle of the night asking their parents, ‘is the police station close enough if something happens.’”
There has been money set aside specifically for mental health, more counselors access to help, and even new child and adolescent care centers to be put in 100 schools. But it may not even be enough.
A school safety task force in Lansing made of lawmakers thinks the schools could need another nearly $200 million in state funds to protect kids better.
“We are taking this very seriously, and I understand the frustration, ‘like oh great, another committee,’” said Novi Representative Kelly Breen.
Breen has been working on the task force since it started last January, and the bi-partisan group has found common ground.
“We want to make sure that if we do anything that’s a mandate, first of all, that it’s funded, but it also gives a great deal of deference to local control. Every district is different,” Breen said.
But with changes in political control, that bipartisan work could be in danger as agendas change, even though schools are relying on desperately needed help.
“It’s one thing to say kids are really important to us, and teachers are the best things in the world,” Webber said. “It’s another thing to say it, mean it by the actions we engage in as a society to support them.”
This all comes as a brand new safety task force under the Michigan Department of Education has just recently had its first meeting.
The group is focused heavily on mental health and intends to do more work with the legislature.