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School Safety, Mental Health Programs Falter with Gun Bill

Fans of bipartisan-backed school safety and mental health bills will have to find another legislative vehicle for their programs, now that Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, has pulled a gun violence measure from consideration, after a key vote on bolstering background checks for would-be gun buyers failed to gain sufficient support. (Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was not too happy about that.)

The measure, which would have been the first major congressional response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, may have been controversial when it comes to gun violence.

But it also included some school safety and mental health provisions that had bipartisan backing, and essentially went down with the rest of the bill. The measure would have allowed districts to use existing funds to bolster school climate and partner with community mental health centers, for example, a provision written by Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the top lawmakers on the Senate education committee.

The legislation would also have authorized grants for states and local governments that want to upgrade their security infrastructure—doing things like buying lights, fences, and surveillance equipment, changing classroom locks and doors, and training teachers on security measures—all as part of a provision authored by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine.

The bill wouldn't have included a ton of new money for these programs—a sharp contrast from the Obama administration's ask which included hundreds of millions of dollars for everything from grants to train more school counselors to new money to help schools update their emergency plans. Those proposals, which were also included in the administration's budget request, face long odds in a what's shaping up to be another austere budget year on Capitol Hill.

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