Last week, AASA members had the opportunity to participate in a call with USED staff (including Secretary Arne Duncan) to hear about the department's proposals as they relate to school safety. The conversation also included David Esquith, Director of the Office of Safe and Healthy Students.
The call lasted only 30 minutes, but included both an overview of the administration's proposals and time for Q&A with AASA members.
Not surprisingly, the adminstration's overview was an exact summary of the proposal as previously reported on this blog (see related AASA blog posts here and here).
AASA advocacy staff covered the conversation via twitter. Check out the @Noellerson twitter handle, and a brief summary of Q&A is included below:
- Secretary Duncan was clear to reiterate that the use of funds for activities related to school safety hinges on Congress' willingness to appropriate them in the annual federal budget/appropriations process. While there is some work the adminstration can take (i.e., competitive priority to allow for use of COPS funding for SROs or technical assistance for REMS), Duncan was clear that this involves Congressional support and that this cannot be DC ply....it's important for Congress to hear from it's constituents.
- Secretary Duncan also made it very clear how important it is for communities to decide what is needed most, and repeated his sentiment about LEA flexibility in implementing mental health access and treatment, school resource officers, and other school safety initiatives.
- When asked about the administration's proposal for FY14 funding for mental health fisrt aid, Duncan responded that is would be a discretionary competitive grant program run out of HHS.
- Asked about the proposal related to school safety/emergency response plans, USED indicated that it would not be a mandate for all school to review their plans. Rather, it would be a coordinated effort by USED to provide protocols/best practices to facilitate review and/or modifications/changes.
- A school official from the Columbine, CO district asked how USED is planning to identify pragmatic responses, with a particular focus on collaboration within/between agencies. Secretary Duncan was quick to response that Justice/HHS/USED need to group together to coordinate on this and recognized the need to refer to expertise that is already there, and to include a series of conversations with stakeholders, as well.
- Secretary Duncan clarified that "....one of the things we can do well is bring people together. We don't want to mandate it, but we can facilitate it."
- Esquith provided a timeline for when USED will have models of good plans and resources for how to develop/implement good plans and best practices related to comprehensive management plans. That information will be available by May 2013.
- The final question came from a small community in central New York (close to this blogger's hometown!) reiterating the critical role SROs can play in smaller communities who may not have their own police force. SROs can play a crucial role in these settings, as the first responder best positioned to save lives and preventing more loss. The caller wanted to relay the importance of smaller communities having the option to pursue SROs, and emphasize the need for flexible support for SROs, to which Secretary Duncan reported that the administration is working to establish a competitive priority within COPS to allow for FY13 COPS funding to be used for SROs.