Arkansas legislators last week set aside $50 million for a school-safety grant program for which the rules have yet to be written.
At least one legislator said the size of the grant program could grow during next year’s General Assembly.
“I don’t think $50 million is the final price tag,” Rep. Lane Jean, co-chair of the Joint Budget Committee, said during a meeting last Tuesday. “We can do more if we see the need there.”
The funds come from a $1.6 billion surplus the state ended with in fiscal 2022.
Lawmakers in last week’s session also approved tax-cutting legislation that will cost state government about $500 million in lost revenue over the next year.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the school security bill and the income tax cut legislation on Thursday. He and legislative leaders cited recent mass shootings, including the attack on a school in Uvalde, Texas, as the reason for setting up a fund to pay for school security enhancements.
Act 3 of the special session moves the $50 million from the state’s reserve fund into a “School Safety Set-Aside” fund to await the School Safety Commission’s final recommendations and the Department of Education’s proposed rules for implementing the grant program.
Sen. Missy Irvin, Republican chair of the Senate Education Committee, told fellow legislators in Tuesday’s budget panel meeting that the Legislative Council will approve rules drafted by the education department.
Those rules, she said, will be written in consultation with school districts “‘to determine their baseline needs.”
The School Safety Commission has been meeting since Hutchinson reactivated it in June to review and update recommendations from its 2018 report. It gave a preliminary report to Hutchinson on Aug. 2.
In a press conference that day, the governor said the commission’s initial recommendations “require an investment of real dollars. That $50 million will be a good start and a support mechanism for our school districts.”
Cheryl May, commission chair and director of the Criminal Justice Institute, said the commission expects to deliver its final report and recommendations in October.
“There is not a single thing a school can do to make that school safe,” she said at the Aug. 2 press conference. “It has to be a combination of a variety of things … Being able to have this layering is incredibly important.”
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