U.S. schools have been the scene of a series of deadly shootings by students over the years. At Sandy Hook Elementary, in Newtown, Conn., however, a 20-year-old intruder was responsible for the Dec. 14 attack.
It's hard to estimate how much would be covered by the proposed funding for the president's programs, ranging from $15 million to $150 million--small sums by federal budget standards.
As of last week, it was also unclear whether the money would be distributed by formula or through competitive awards, and how large the grants would be.
While the White House estimates that the resources could put 1,000 new mental-health and school safety professionals in schools, Secretary Duncan acknowledged in a call with reporters last week that the funding--if approved by Congress--was unlikely to be enough to put a social worker in place in every school that needs one.
"There's much greater interest in this than we'll have resources available," he said. That is typical, he added, of initiatives aimed at combating major societal problems.
For their part, district officials said they would welcome the new resources, even if the aid was relatively limited.
"I think it will help even if it means just one extra school resource officer and one extra school social worker," said Audrey Coaston-Shelton, the lead school psychologist for the 34,000-student Cincinnati school district.
But she said that mental-health staff members who can be in the school building on a regular basis and form a bond with students are likely to have more impact than "somebody who comes in on Wednesday and a few kids disappear into their office."
Many of the mental-health initiatives put forward by President Obama in his plan, including the teacher-training initiative, would be housed at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Capitol Hill Reception
It's unclear how the new mental-health programs--and other proposals that require new spending--will go over with Congress. House Republicans particularly have been reluctant to add to the government's bottom line and are already headed for a showdown with the White House over automatic spending cuts to a range of domestic and military programs, set to kick in later this year.
For now, Republicans aren't tipping their hand on the education-related proposals.
"The president and vice president have proposed a broad set of recommendations, which I plan to review carefully," U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a statement. And he said his committee would convene a hearing on school safety.
But Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who oversees the Senate panels that deal with K-12 policy and funding, was more enthusiastic, particularly about the focus on mental health.
"I'm encouraged that this proposal recognizes that a comprehensive approach is needed--one that focuses on ensuring that our students get the services they need and addresses mental-health services in our country with an emphasis on prevention and early intervention," he said in a statement.
Already Under Way
Some portions of the newly announced plan have already been pushed through using Mr. Obama's executive muscle. The president has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to help schools hire additional resource officers--police officers who can respond to threats immediately within a school--by giving priority to applicants who plan to use the Justice Department's community-policing grants for that purpose.
And, under his orders, the U.S. Department of Education, working with the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, will also develop, by May of this year, model emergency-response plans for schools, houses of worship, and institutions of higher education.
As part of that effort, the agencies will outline best practices for training teachers and students on the plans, something the federal government has identified as a gap when it comes to school safety procedures.
While the students and teachers at Sandy Hook had practiced safety procedures in the months before the lone gunman's attack, that is not the norm, according to a 2010 survey cited by the White House. The survey found that while 84 percent of schools have a written plan in place to be used in the event of a shooting, only 52 percent of schools had drilled their students on the plan in the past year.
Mr. Dorn of Safe Havens International views the concept of model plans with some caution.
"If you take these things and just print them and use them" without talking to local law enforcement or thinking about the local context, they won't be as effective, he said.
And almost no policy will eliminate the possibility of another school shooting.
"I just don't see that anything is going to be a sure-fire bet to prevention," Mr. Dorn said. "There is no magic solution to make these attacks go away."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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