School safety bills take center stage

Legislation to enhance and help schools invest in school safety were the focus of a recent Education Committee meeting. Four bills with bipartisan authors were discussed, with funding for the proposals to be determined later in session.

The current Safe Schools program allows district to invest funds in school resource officers, drug abuse prevention programs (DARE), gang resistance education training, school security, and other crime prevention. Districts may also invest in student and staff safety measures and counseling, social work, and chemical dependency services provided by licensed professionals. Schools may receive up to $36 per student to spend towards safe schools. One there are so many bills increasing the per student amount is because over 90% of Minnesota school districts have reached the $36 per student levy cap and have no additional funds to spend on further safe school programs.

One bill would create a new school facilities improvement program to provide funding to schools to enhance school and student safety, new instructional space construction, facilities improvement, long-term facilities maintenance, and school lease agreements. Districts can levy for some of the funds, and the levy is equalized, which means there would be state funding to help hold down local property taxes. Districts would receive $212 per student each year. (SF2508)

Another bill includes a safe and secure schools provision from the Governor’s supplemental budget. The bill would (based on an amendment discussed):

  • Allow districts to issue bonds for public service announcements, emergency communications devices, or other equipment related to violence prevention and facility security.
  • Provide all districts and charter schools with an additional $54 per student in FY19 in Safe Schools revenue. School districts and charter would be guaranteed to receive at least $22,500 from the sum of the aid and the existing levy.
  • In FY20 and beyond: It would double the Safe Schools Revenue allowance from $36 per pupil to $72 per pupil and create a minimum revenue amount for school districts of $30,000.
  • The state equalization aid would help low tax base districts access to this revenue.
  • The levy aid must be spent on items identified in the safe schools levy statute, including facility enhancements, costs for school counselors, peace officers, and crime and drug abuse prevention and cybersecurity. (SF2507)

The third bill would allow districts to use long-term facilities maintenance funding, up to $100 per student, for districts to upgrade safety and security of school facilities. The funding would also be available to charter schools. The program would be effective from FY2020-2027. The plans would need to be submitted to the MDE commissioner by December 31, 2019. The levy would be equalized to hold down property taxes for local residents. (SF3243)

The final bill heard by the committee this week increases the amount districts can levy per pupil for safe schools projects. It also allows the safe schools levy increases for intermediate school district members to increase the same percentage amount as it does for school districts. The safe schools levy allows school districts to levy for costs associated with student and staff safety issues. For example, a 50% increase in the levy authority for school districts would result in a 50% increase in the pass-through authority for intermediate district members. (SF3472)