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Federal School Safety Research Eliminated to Fund New School Security Measures

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A student passes through security at the beginning of the school day at Christian Fenger Academy High School in Chicago. School officials around the country are working to balance school security with the need 
to maintain a positive learning environment.

Funding for the new STOP School Violence Act, which funds school security and safety measures, will come at the expense of federal research about school safety.

And that is a major concern for education researchers, who say there is an urgent need for more data about how to keep schools safe.

As we reported last week, the new federal spending bill signed into law by President Donald Trump included the STOP School Violence Act, a safety bill pushed by families of Newtown, Conn., and Parkland, Fla., school shooting victims that provides funding for physical school security measures, school police, and programs that train teachers and students to recognize and respond to concerns of violence.

But to pay for that program, the spending bill effectively cancels the federal Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, a grant program developed after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown to fund implementation and evaluation of programs that explore a variety of school safety concerns, ranging from bullying prevention to relationships between school police and students to comprehensive campus safety plans. The bill redirects all $75 million from the research program to the STOP School Violence Act, which does not emphasize research and evaluation and has a narrower list of acceptable funding uses.

After Trump signed the bill, the National Institute of Justice canceled its next round of grants under the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative. Most of the research from the earlier rounds of grants is just nearing publication. Grants funded since the start of the program in 2014 include a study of threat assessment and violence prevention, a program for identifying students at risk of misbehavior, research on school safety monitoring the determine threats to schools, and researchs on the root causes of violence in schools.

Felice Levine, executive director of the American Educational Research Association, said the move was "short-sighted." She released a statement:

"Our concern is not about the passage of the Stop School Violence Act, but about the de-funding and cancellation of these research efforts. Losing these programs is tragically counter-productive and short-sighted at a time when the need for evidence-based policies and practices that protect schools, students, and society has never been greater.

Congress needs to invest in—not slash—investments that help school and policy leaders better understand the root causes of school violence, develop strategies for increasing school safety, and rigorously evaluate innovative efforts... We urge Congress to support and promote research-based programs and policies to reduce the risk of violence in communities, schools, workplaces, settings of worship, and other public spaces."

AERA has also urged Congress to provide dedicated funding for gun violence research.

Some school safety researchers have lamented the loss of federal funding in recent days.

Photo: A student passes through security at the beginning of the school day at Christian Fenger Academy High School in Chicago in this 2013 Education Week file photo. -Peter Hoffman

Related reading on school safety:

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