HOLBERT: Protecting our schools requires results, not rhetoric

By Senator Chris Holbert

Last week, the Colorado General Assembly held its first meeting of the interim School Safety Committee. On the heels of the STEM School Shooting in May, leadership in both the House and Senate — and on both sides of the aisle — decided to craft the committee in the hopes of identifying ways for the state to assist the 178 local school districts in Colorado secure their schools and provide resources for students dealing with mental health issues.

On social media, the debate evolves toward guns, but that is not the purpose of the committee.

In the real world, parents, students, teachers, and our community want results, not rhetoric.

A recent KUNC story highlighted that the controversial 2013 magazine ban resulted in only 11 convictions in the 6 years it has been in place — in part due to the lack of enforceability. Truth be told, almost any piece of legislation that addresses the tools utilized in school violence will be difficult — if not impossible — to enforce. Talk of legislation targeting proper storage of firearms may seem like a moderate approach, but how does one enforce that law? Do we send police officers door to door to ask if gun owners are properly storing their firearms? Or, would such a law prove to be as ineffective as the so-called “mag ban?”

There isn’t a person in the legislature (or hopefully in the entire state) who wouldn’t strongly encourage parents to safely lock away their firearms. But, as was proven when the perpetrators of the STEM Shooting broke open a parent’s attempt at safe storage to obtain their firearms — it’s not foolproof — and it’s not an active step in guaranteeing the safety of our students. It’s not a stretch to assume that if gun storage legislation was to be signed into law, we’d see a similarly low rate of conviction due to a lack of enforceability.

We don’t need virtue signaling via legislation, we need results.

On April 4th, 2018, the Colorado state Senate voted to allocate $35 million toward school safety — which eventually evolved into a grant program for which local school districts could apply. In the Democrat-controlled House, the legislation received bipartisan support. In the Senate, every Republican Senator supported the move, while all but 1 Democratic Senator voted against it.

“Thirty-five million dollars, that’s a lot of cash,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) on the Senate floor regarding the amendment. She later continued, “Have you talked to a superintendent lately? Somebody said yes. I have too, and what they want is to increase their per-pupil funding with that 35 million.”

The final amount for the grant program was eventually brought down to $29.5 million, which was available for training school resource officers, teachers, and staff, alongside enhancements such as metal detectors, surveillance systems, and door lock mechanisms. The Cherry Creek School District, which overlaps Senator Fields’ district, applied for and received $1.3 million from the grant program. Aurora Public Schools, which is also within Fields’ district, received $272,593. Despite the senator’s insistence that districts didn’t need the money for school safety, Colorado’s school districts requested double what the total program provided. As a matter of fact, Cherry Creek Schools requested a total of $18 million — the largest request by any school district in the State.

Fortunately, rhetoric failed in the face of results during that debate as school districts applied for and received that significant school safety funding. Hopefully, we’ll never see if such training and safety enhancements “work” in a situation where they are needed, but such large investments will certainly make our children and our schools less vulnerable.

The grants, which were dispersed earlier this year, are a good step toward ensuring Colorado schools are safe. Why? Because Colorado is a local control state. The locally-elected school board in your school district has the constitutional authority to determine what school safety means in and for the public schools in your district, not the General Assembly. I am optimistic that the School Safety Committee will build on that premise, cut through the rhetoric, and find ways to bring results for our schools. From mental health services to secure schools, progress can be made and there is a middle ground to be found.

Results can be achieved without stepping on the U.S. or Colorado Constitutions. Our students are counting on it.

Read the original editorial published in the Denver Post.

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