Iowa invests $100 million in federal funds for school safety and mental health

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Iowa will allocate $100 million in federal funds for school safety and mental health programs, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Tuesday.

She offered the investment, which does not include any gun control measures, for the prevention of school shootings and other violence, she told a news conference.

The plan begins with the creation of an Office of School Safety, which will coordinate violence prevention efforts between schools, law enforcement and parents. The office will function as a hub for law enforcement and school personnel to train in emergency response situations. It will also create a system to report threats anonymously, by app, phone, and website.

The office, alongside other mental health investments, will tackle the issues behind the shootings, Reynolds said.

“The gun debate will continue, but until we consider that the deadly weapon in these events is the person who picks up the gun and turns it on someone else, we risk overlooking other solutions. who directly address the cause of this violence and work to reverse its course,” Reynolds said.

The investment follows a series of recent mass shootings: a man killed 19 students and two teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas three weeks ago. A 16-year-old died in a shooting outside East High School in Des Moines in early May. A gunman shot and killed two Iowa State students, then himself, outside Cornerstone Church in Ames two weeks ago.

Reynolds originally proposed to establish the security office in 2020, but it was never funded. She said Tuesday that recent events — and the effects of the pandemic on children’s mental health — have spurred the new timeline. Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephen Baynes said he hoped to have the new services in place for the 2022-23 school year.

“There’s a sense of urgency right with the increase in acts of violence we see happening every day,” Reynolds said.

Among the new security measures, schools in Iowa will now be eligible for a building security assessment and $50,000 per building to address vulnerabilities. Law enforcement will also provide emergency radios to schools to report threats and concerns.

The office and new services will initially be paid for through the U.S. Federal Bailout Act and the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund, which expires in 2026. Reynolds said it will cost to the state about $1.5 million a year to continue the services.

“We’ll get back to it in 2026 when those funds run out,” Reynolds said. “But by far almost 90% of the funding, the 100 million, is really going to the infrastructure, to setting it up, to setting up the office and the policies.”

These new efforts will build on the systems already in place. Schools are already required to have emergency operation plans and submit reports to the Iowa Department of Education each year to confirm compliance with state and federal requirements. Local law enforcement is already working with state and federal agencies to prepare for mass shootings and identify threats.

Of the $100 million invested, $7.5 million will go towards vulnerability assessments of all school buildings in Iowa and $6 million towards incident mapping technology. A school safety improvement fund will receive $75 million.

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