Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Hey Ducey: 19% of what is already owed, isn't "new" money

When I went to bed last night, I intended to write a post in the morning about Governor Ducey’s unveiling of his school safety plan yesterday. Now, as I sit down to write, I learn of yet another school shooting, this one in Maryland. As of March 8th according to CNN, there had already been 14 school shootings in 2018 which averaged out to 1.5 per week. Delving into the numbers, only 2 of those are what I would call “mass shootings”. The rest of them, although they all occurred on school grounds, (grades K through university level), were either a result of gang violence, fights and domestic violence or accidental discharge where someone besides the shooter was shot.

I present this information not to minimize the other shootings but because yesterday someone shared with me that they heard some gun violence statistics that turned out to be misleading. Let’s face it, numbers can be sliced and diced to prove just about any narrative. In the end though, I say what does it matter and why focus on that? America’s school children feel unsafe in their schools…what are we doing about it?

Yesterday, Governor Ducey unveiled his school safety plan. My fellow blogger on Blog for AZ, “AZBlueMeanie”, again scooped me to the story and as usual, his writing is much better than mine. Basically, he writes, Ducey’s plan is to ’“harden” schools with more people armed with guns on campus – exactly the opposite of what student activists are calling for – and to throw a little bit more money at school counselors.’

What money will be allocated to all this is unclear. Ducey’s plan commits “$1.8 million over three years to modernize the reporting system law enforcement uses for criminal records and to populate the state’s background check system.” This, because law enforcement in the state has called the background system “ineffective” and only 63.6% complete according to a 2015 review by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. The hope is that a shift from the current paper-based model to computerized, will enable law enforcement to enter new records into the database within 24 hours versus the current standard of 40 days. This, says Ducey’s staff, could become a “model for other states to follow”.

The plan also includes $8 million from AHCCCS for increased mental health resources in schools. This funding will be available to schools for students whose families fall below 200% of the federal poverty level or, are covered by AHCCS or KidsCare. Schools that don’t qualify for this funding can use “new district additional assistance funding.”

I love this last line. You see…there is no “new” district additional funding (or really, much of any new funding). There is only district additional funding (or capital funding as it used to be called), that has been sucked out of our district schools. Over $2 billion since 2009 to be exact, leaving these schools with only 15% to maintain and repair their facilities and buy new busses, technology and other high cost items. The “new” district additional funding Governor Ducey refers to, is just his proposal to return some of that funding, $371 million (split between districts and charters) over five years. Please let this soak in. Governor Ducey is proposing that part of the solution to make our schools more safe, is to take some “new” proposed funding, (only 19% of what our schools need just to get back to where we were in 2009), and use this to help provide more mental health help for our students versus fix our crumbling facilities and unsafe busses. Although gun violence in our schools is deservedly getting the most attention right now, it isn’t the only critical safety issue our schools are facing.

I do want though, to give credit to Governor Ducey in two areas. First of all, he says he does not want to arm teachers. Hallelujah!! In my opinion, arming teachers is the stupidest idea I’ve heard in a very long time. I spoke recently with a teacher who was a Marine security policeman. He said if teachers are armed in the school where his children are enrolled, he will pull them out of that school. If I had kids, I would too. Arming teachers will not make our schools more safe.

Secondly, Ducey evidently also wants our state to be able to seize guns from those who are a danger to themselves and others. His plan includes “an emergency STOP (Severe Threat Order of Protection) order, in which law enforcement can petition the court to seize firearms”, an ex parte STOP order, allowing family members, guardians, school workers and others to do the same, and an extension providision for up to six months.

Governor Ducey’s plan does not however, address the “gun show loophole” allowing person-to-person sales of firearms to evade background checks. His failure to do so could negate the value of STOP orders, and it calls into question the ability to pass his legislation in a bi-partisan manner with House Dems calling his current plan a “missed opportunity”.

For their part, the Arizona School Boards Association recently released a school safety resolution to the state’s 1,200 school board members recommending each governing board considering passing such to call on our Legislature to take action to make our schools safer. The resolution calls upon “local, county and state public safety agencies to prioritize collaborative threat assessment and crisis planning with school districts and for Congress and state legislatures to pass legislation that: more effectively regulates access to firearms, provides funds above those needed for basic building maintenance and improvement for capital improvements shown to increase safety and security, funds public health research on issues related to gun violence, and advances mental health supports.” Association leadership was also in discussions with Governor Ducey prior to his releasing his plan.

I don’t know which of these ideas will eventually see the light of day and which ones will make a real difference. What I do know is that if we cannot begin to talk to each other about this problem (and it is a problem no matter how much of an ostrich anyone wants to be), and look for common ground, our children will continue to die violent deaths in our schools. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want our schools to become fortresses, just safe places where our children can learn. Maybe that is the starting point.

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