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School Mental Health Proposal May Reach Senate Floor

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UPDATED

While the issue of school safety and security has been dwarfed by debate over gun control and background checks during debate this week in the U.S. Senate, there is a chance there will be a spotlight on schools and mental health services—if brief—today.

The Senate is debating the first major gun control legislation in decades, prompted by the December school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

After a slow start even getting a gun control bill to the Senate floor, the chamber raced through a number of amendments Wednesday, all of which failed. Just one was directly related to schools. This amendment offered by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and fellow Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas would has provided $30 million a year for 10 years for schools to hire additional school resource officers.

If things go as planned today, the Senate will take up an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., that would encourage states to provide districts with technical assistance on implementing school-based mental-health programs. The measure would make it clear that schools can use Title I money for schoolwide intervention services and to create or update school emergency-management plans. It would renew a program that offers grants to states, Native American tribes, and nonprofit groups to train school staff and emergency-services personnel to recognize the signs of mental illness and connect students and others with the services they need. (But Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., may pull the bill altogether.)

UPDATE, 12:54 p.m.: The mental health amendment passed the Senate today by a vote of 95-2.

UPDATE 5:25 p.m.: For now, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the entire gun control and school safety measure is on hold.

The proposal gets mixed reviews from education organizations.

This amendment seems far less politically charged than the others, but whether it advances remains to be seen.

The bill itself calls for $40 million in grants to state and local government agencies that want to upgrade school security by buying lights, fencing, doors, locks, and security cameras. The money could also be used to train teachers and administrators on security and better collaborate with local law-enforcement officials. Districts could also use the funds to set up hotlines or tip lines for "the reporting of potentially dangerous students and situations." Local government agencies would have to provide a 50 percent match for the federal resources.

You can watch the Senate floor action live later today here.

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