The President’s Budget Speaks Louder Than His Words on School Safety

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Last week’s devastating mass shooting at a Florida high school has led to renewed calls on Congress to act to end the scourge of gun violence in America.

Various lawmakers, including the President, have pledged to do everything in their power to keep this senseless tragedy from repeating itself.

First and foremost, the best way that Congress can protect our children is by finally mustering the courage to pursue commonsense gun laws.

But there is another important, and complementary, step that Congress can take to guard against these senseless tragedies: reject, outright, the President’s Fiscal Year 2019 (FY 19) budget request.

Released February 12th, the President’s Budget proposal would negatively impact children across a whole range of categories, from nutrition and housing to income support and child welfare.

But in light of the events in Florida, which claimed the lives of 17 children and wrought trauma and harm on countless more, it is worth highlighting that this budget does not align with the administration’s new promises to make school safety its top priority.  In fact, the President’s FY 19 Budget includes dangerous cuts to education, health, and law enforcement programs that are aimed at keeping our children safe from violence and helping them cope with trauma.

Among its many cuts to the Department of Education, the President’s Budget guts the Safe Schools and Citizen Education  portfolio, which supports local education agencies (LEAs) in their efforts to foster safe and healthy school environments. The administration suggests eliminating Prevent Grants, which fund violence prevention and mental health services in schools, as well as Promoting Student Resilience Grants, which build capacity to address the comprehensive behavioral and mental health needs students in communities that have experienced significant civil unrest.

Along with removing these prevention funds, the Administration would also eliminate grants that help schools and students respond to, and cope with, violence, such as Project School Emergency Response to Violence Grants (which help students recover from a violent or traumatic event in which the learning environment has been disrupted)  and  Readiness and Emergency Management Technical Assistance Centers:  which help schools work with community partners to develop high-quality emergency management plans.

Making matters worse, of the $43 million that the administration does request for School Safety National Activities, these funds would receive new, narrow parameters so that they are specifically designated to combat the opioid crisis. While funds to combat the opioid epidemic’s harm to children are essential, it is counterproductive to source this spending by cutting complementary school safety programs.

Meanwhile, the administration’s FY 19 budget also requests cuts to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), both of which house programs that emphasize youth violence prevention. Neither bureau has released its detailed budget justification for FY 19, but the overall request for Health and Human Services requests roughly $19 million cut to the CDC’s Injury Prevention and Control center, which includes funds aimed at researching and preventing youth violence. Meanwhile, the administration has proposed a $111 million cut to Programs of National and Regional Importance under SAMSHA, which include Project AWARE (which encompasses evidence-based violence prevention and community youth engagement programs) and Youth Violence Prevention Grants.

Even law enforcement programs aimed at school safety aren’t safe in this budget. The FY 19 Budget eliminates the Department of Justice’s Comprehensive School Safety Initiative. This program, funded at $50 million in FY 17, funds research and pilot demonstrations for reducing school violence.

Former Vice President Joe Biden famously once said, ““Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

The administration has said it will prioritize school safety, but the deep cuts in this budget tell a different story. If President Trump is serious about investing in safer schools, recommitting federal dollars to these education, health, and justice programs is an excellent place to start.

Rachel Merker, First Focus Campaign for Children

This article has been aggregated with permission from First Focus: https://firstfocus.org/blog/the-presidents-budget-speaks-louder-than-his-words-on-school-safety

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