Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday called on lawmakers to take up a $100 million package aimed at providing more security in school buildings across Wisconsin.
But the plan doesn’t call for imposing stricter controls on gun ownership as Democrats have called for, or for arming teachers as some Republicans have said could be a solution to gun violence in the classroom.
Walker unveiled the proposal a day after thousands of Madison-area high school students converged on the state Capitol to demand stricter gun laws to prevent another school shooting like the one that killed 17 at a Florida high school in February. That massacre prompted Walker and lawmakers across the country to look at ways to beef up school security.
Despite pressure on lawmakers to act on gun and school safety issues, it’s unclear what might pass the state Legislature.
The Assembly has already approved a plan to pay for more school security officers, but it isn’t scheduled to vote again this year. The Senate plans to vote on a separate school safety measure Tuesday.
Walker has called a special legislative session to consider his school safety package and the Assembly has accepted his request. But there’s no similar guarantee from the state Senate. Before Walker can sign a bill into law, each house must pass an identical version.
Dan Rossmiller, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, wrote to school board members Thursday that they should urge lawmakers to figure out a way to get legislation to Walker’s desk because the path both houses are on currently won’t end up in enacted law.
“There is some serious politics being played between the two houses. School safety and security must not be allowed to become a casualty,” he wrote.
Walker’s plan would create an Office of School Safety within the state Department of Justice; it proposes $100 million in grants to schools, on a one-time basis, to help pay for security improvements, training opportunities and police officers.
It’s unclear how the grants would be distributed, but if the $100 million were divided equally among the 2,261 public schools and 818 private schools in Wisconsin, each school would get $32,478.
“No child, parent or teacher should ever have to feel unsafe in school,” Gov. Scott Walker said in a statement. “This package of bills focuses on ways we can help schools be safe, just like we did at the federal level ensuring that every airport and airplane were safe after 9/11. The same thing needs to be true for our schools all across the State of Wisconsin. We are putting $100 million behind this plan.”
Under Walker’s plan, the new DOJ office would be charged with handing out the grants, and would work with law enforcement and schools to establish “best practices” for school safety plans and would employ two permanent staffers and two positions devoted to projects only.
DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said the Legislature could set parameters on the distribution of grant money, but right now the plan is to give DOJ officials the power to determine which schools are eligible for the money.
The new DOJ office also would be responsible for requiring school districts to make blueprints of their buildings available to police.
The package includes a provision that requires all mandated reporters of suspected child abuse — including doctors, mental health professionals, teachers and guidance counselors — to report any suspected threats of school violence to law enforcement.
Walker also proposes requiring districts to create school safety plans for school activities outside of the normal school day, which they are currently not mandated to do; amending state law to require parents be notified within 48 hours of a bullying incident involving their child; requiring the DOJ office to promote practices that account for any trauma students may have experienced in any training it offers to schools.
State law also would be clarified to ensure police are not violating student privacy laws when they obtain video footage of schools, under Walker’s proposal.
The package would be paid for with existing money, according to Walker’s spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg.
The package does not include provisions related to gun purchases or gun ownership, as Democrats and students have called for.
Shilling, Evers say plan is lacking
“For a plan that is supposed to be about gun safety, I don’t see anything in here that will keep deadly firearms out of the wrong hands,” Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said in a statement.
State Superintendent Tony Evers last week called on Walker, whom he’s challenging in this year’s governor’s race, to call a special legislative session on school safety that included a $50 million plan that would allow school districts to raise property taxes to pay for security costs.
Evers said Thursday that while he’s pleased Walker is calling for a special session on school safety, the governor’s plan is notable for what it omits: chiefly, gun restrictions such as universal background checks for firearm purchases.
Evers said it’s good that Walker wants to give schools more money for safety, but he said the money should be ongoing rather than a one-time amount.
Evers objected to putting the grant program under the control of Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, who, Evers noted, has signaled he is open to arming classroom teachers.
The Department of Public Instruction already has a team of 10 within the agency that handles most of the tasks that the new DOJ office would take on, according to DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy. He said the agency could take on Walker’s proposals without hiring new staff.
Evers, Shilling and Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said Walker is ignoring student concerns about gun safety.
“There’s kind of a massive disconnect between what (students) are saying and what the governor is proposing,” Evers said.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the Assembly would take up Walker’s proposal in a one-day special session next week. But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Senate Republicans are working on their own school safety plan that, in his words, “will closely align with the governor’s objectives.”
Another Senate leader, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s budget committee, called Walker’s proposal “strong” and said she would support it.
The Assembly has passed a bill that would provide grants to schools to increase school security officers and tighten restrictions on gun purchases by straw buyers — people who purchase guns for others legally barred from doing so — but it’s unlikely to be taken up by the state Senate.
State Journal Reporter Mark Sommerhauser contributed to this report.