HARTFORD, CT — The issue of arming teachers came up briefly, but was dismissed by a bipartisan working group that focused on ways to improve school security in Connecticut.
The group did release a list of 18 bills it does support, including one that would authorize the use of school security funds to arm school security guards, another that would study issues related to school security officers, which are different than school resource officers, and one that would allow off-duty police officers carry firearms on school grounds.
Most of the bills have been raised for a public hearing, but Rep. Joe Verrengia, who co-chairs the Public Safety and Security Committee, said he intends to raise some of the bills. Three of the 18 bills have been raised for public hearings and a number have been forwarded to the Education Committee, which has yet to raise any of the school security bills for a public hearing.
The School Security Working Group began meeting in April last year after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Rep. Carol Hall, R-Enfield, who co-chaired the working group, said they worked through the summer and “compared school safety models from districts across the state and identified policies and proposals to make sure our students and teachers are safe in the classroom.”
Since 2013, the state has approved $53 million in bond funds for over 1,200 schools in three separate rounds of funding under the School Security Grant Program. The funding was approved following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. It was part of a broader legislative package to prevent gun violence and improve mental health.
Currently, there’s about $5 million left in the School Security Grant Program, according to Rep. Livvy Floren, R-Greenwich. She said there’s plans to replenish that program with another $10 million.
Lawmakers expressed confidence the funding would be there for the initiative despite Gov. Ned Lamont’s desire to trim borrowing by $500 million a year.
However, not everyone believes the fund should continue as a competitive grant program.
Hall said when you bond these items like this it creates “winners and losers.” She said there should be a dedicated amount of money given to all school boards for school safety.
“I think if you fund them more on a line item basis like we do for ECS and special ed. I think you’re ensuring each district will get looked at in a fair and equitable way,” Hall added.
She said the biggest complaint they heard from school districts was the lack of funding for school security measures.
Hall said they also discovered that schools submit their security plans to the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, but often times that’s when the communication ends.
“Part of what the department told us is that it’s a staffing issue,” Hall said. “We’re aware from the committee process that there needs to be some funding for DESPP.”
Rep. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven, the other co-chairwoman of the working group, said in 2013 there were two regional planners in the department to review these plans, but the positions were only funded for a year.
“We have to look at a sustainable program that allows these regional planners in DESPP to continue to the critical work we would like to see them do,” Borer said.
The working group also examined the school security aspects of the Sandy Hook Commission report.
The commission headed by Department of Revenue Services Commissioner Scott Jackson, who at the time was Hamden mayor, spoke at length with school security consultants from around the world.