Watch as Kim Reynolds directs $100 million to prevent school shootings
Gov. Kim Reynolds announces a $100 million plan to prevent school shootings. She spoke Tuesday, June 14, 2022, at the Oran Pape State Office Building.
Des Moines Register
Iowa will spend $100 million of federal funding to prevent school shootings, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Tuesday.
The funds will be used to conduct vulnerability assessments on schools, provide active shooter training, hire additional staff at the Department of Public Safety and create new pathways to report and monitor threats of violence. Schools, both public and private, will also be eligible for up to $50,000 each to improve the security of their buildings.
“Every family should be able to confidently send their children to school, knowing that they will be safe,” Reynolds said at a news conference in Des Moines. “And as the governor of Iowa and a grandmother of school-aged children, I want to assure parents that your children’s safety at school is just as important to me.”
The announcement comes three weeks after a gunman killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers in a Uvalde, Texas, school. Gun violence has also touched Iowa in recent months, as a shooter killed two Iowa State students and then himself outside an Ames church earlier this month, and a teenager died in a shooting in March outside East High School in Des Moines.
“There’s a sense of urgency, just with the increased acts of violence that we see taking place every single day,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds did not propose any additional gun control measures on Tuesday.
Reynolds said Tuesday that Iowa needs to focus on “what causes someone to commit these evil acts.”
“The debate on guns will continue, but until we consider the lethal weapons in these events is the person who picks up the gun and turns it against another, we risk overlooking other solutions that directly address the cause of this violence and work to reverse this course,” she said.
Deidre DeJear, the Democrat running against Reynolds in November, said the measures announced Tuesday were “good first steps,” but that addressing access to firearms is also necessary to prevent school shootings.
“It’s time to implement actual solutions, not just drills and adding more law enforcement inside our schools,” DeJear said in a statement. “We must reinstate permits for the purchase of any gun, raise the age required to purchase an assault weapon to 21, and have universal background checks to ensure the safety of our communities.”
The $100 million will come from the American Rescue Plan and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, federal COVID-19 relief packages passed by Democratic majorities in the U.S. House and Senate.
How does Iowa plan to prevent school shootings?
Reynolds emphasized that the state’s approach to preventing school shootings would be “holistic,” including mental health care, training for school staff and law enforcement, and infrastructure changes to school buildings.
The majority of the new money, more than $80 million, will be used to assess and improve the security of school buildings.
Experts from the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will send experts to each building to find “vulnerabilities that could be exploited by anyone attempting to do harm,” Reynolds said. After the assessments, schools will be allowed to use $50,000 grants to make the recommended changes.
The Iowa Association of School Boards supported the announcement Tuesday.
“We support the additional $50,000 per school building to implement recommended safety measures — this use of federal funds allows local flexibility based on need,” communications director Tammy Votava wrote in an email.
The Iowa Department of Public Safety also will focus on prevention, according to Commissioner Stephan Bayens.
“The goal is to identify concerning behaviors early, so parents, school officials, mental health professionals and others can begin providing assistance without the need for having formal law enforcement intervention,” he said.
That means identifying and handling school-based threats. The Governor’s School Safety Bureau, a division of the department, will launch a 24-hour website, app and phone system to allow people to anonymously report concerns about violence or harassment. Iowa will also obtain software to monitor for threats posted online.
The School Safety Bureau also will provide free active shooter training to law enforcement, first responders, school and church employees and civilians, Bayens said. Schools may request an emergency radio to contact law enforcement.
Reynolds anticipates the vulnerability assessments can begin in July. She said the state will work “diligently” so the School Safety Bureau is fully operational by the first day of school.
Reynolds did not introduce any new mental health programs on Tuesday. However, she touted recent initiatives approved by the Legislature, including a partnership with the University of Iowa and training for teachers to identify students who are struggling emotionally.
“I’m really, really proud of the strong, bipartisan progress that we’ve made over the years,” Reynolds said.
Iowa Legislature did not fund School Safety Bureau in 2020
Several of the initiatives announced Tuesday have been introduced before in Iowa.
Reynolds first proposed the Governor’s School Safety Bureau in early 2020. Under her initial plan, the Department of Public Safety would be charged with instructing school officials how to respond to armed intruders and other threats. The School Safety Bureau also planned to launch an anonymous reporting tool and hire cybersecurity experts.
Reynolds estimated it would cost $2 million to create the agency and $1.5 million to fund it each year. But the Iowa Legislature, disrupted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, never funded the program.
Reynolds said the Department of Public Safety had begun work on school safety regardless. She anticipates the Legislature will fund the program with roughly $1.5 million annually when the federal funding runs out in 2026.
“We’ll have some great data that we can talk to the Legislature about,” she said. “We’ll be able to build a case.”
Lawmakers passed a law in 2018 requiring Iowa schools to have plans in place for emergency events, including active shooters. The law passed shortly after 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Department of Education Director Ann Lebo said 290 public school districts and nonpublic schools out of a total of 410 have confirmed that they had up-to-date emergency plans and performed an emergency operations drill during the 2021-2022 school year.
Schools have until June 30 to report to the department.