Two days before the school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead, the Trump administration proposed cutting millions in federal education programs meant to help prevent crime in schools and assist them in recovery from tragedies.
Funds targeted for reduction or elimination in the Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 request have helped pay for counselors in schools and violence prevention programs. Such funds were used for mental health aid for students and teachers in the Newtown, Conn., school district following the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012.
When asked about the proposed cuts, Liz Hill, an Education Department spokeswoman, said the department is “committed to providing resources, direct support and technical assistance to schools who have suffered unthinkable tragedy.”
The budget request calls for a $25 million reduction in funds designated for national school safety activities, compared with 2017. President Donald Trump’s budget would eliminate altogether a $400 million grant program that districts can use, for example, to prevent bullying or provide mental health assistance.
Trump’s budget would also zero out the School Emergency Response to Violence program, known as Project SERV — funded at $1 million in 2017 — that in years past provided millions in funds used by the district in Newtown. However, Hill said that the grant program’s funds carry over from year to year and the department projects that a current $5.2 million balance will be sufficient to meet needs through the next fiscal year.
Kenneth Trump, a school safety consultant who is not related to the president, said existing programs are useful for districts, and the proposed cuts should be thwarted.
But he said the reality is that the federal school safety programs available today pale in comparison to those rolled out after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, which shocked the nation and trained attention on school violence. Those programs focused on emergency planning in schools, bolstering school-based mental health, and putting more police officers in place. He said those initiatives were slowly rolled back during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.
The Trump budget would eliminate “project prevention grants” as part of its proposal that would cut $25 million in national school safety activities. Those grants have directed millions to school districts with pervasive violence to help pay for activities like counseling and conflict resolution.
The budget would also reduce funds for so-called school climate transformation grants, but use $43 million of the grant money left to place a priority on opioid addiction prevention work in schools, although non-drug addiction programs could also receive funding.
While Kenneth Trump said Project SERV grants such as those used in Newtown are helpful, he said they only address one part of a complex issue, and that’s helping with the aftermath of a tragedy.
He said the polarizing debate over gun control “shuts conversations down” and it has kept Congress from moving forward on funding prevention and assistance programs.
Scott Sargrad, a former Education Department official in the Obama administration who serves as the managing director of K-12 education policy at the Center for American Progress, said grant programs may not directly stop a tragedy like Wednesday’s school shooting, but “these are the kinds of things that can help students, staff and teachers respond and recover.”