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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, June 12, 2019 1:00 am

Budgets and bullets

We need to examine how safety demands are affecting schools' spending

Greg Slyford

As a former teacher and administrator, I have often heard legislators stress the importance of directing as many tax dollars as possible to the classroom, where learning is most affected.

Yet what I see today is a disconnect from that mindset, given the actions our state legislators have taken regarding firearm legislation.

Over the years, an increasing number of educators and many in the public have come to the conclusion that several firearm-related bills enacted into law by our state legislators have had a direct and profound impact on the economic bottom line of public, private and parochial education.

In school districts across this state, a substantial number of tax-generated dollars allotted for educational purposes must, out of necessity, be spent on safety, security and mental health, which compete with other important educational needs.

Granted, the state of Indiana has established a variety of funds to address different educational needs, but there is only so much money to go around. In the broadest sense, educational funding ends up being the division of available dollars among various funds and districts.

One could make the argument that funding safety, security and mental health measures designed to combat firearm-related violence ends up becoming an exercise of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Given the many firearm-friendly and NRA-friendly laws our state legislators have enacted, one has to wonder what responsibility these same legislators should assume when it comes to the array of safety, security and mental health needs our school districts must now face. In other words, do legislators recognize their firearm-friendly laws have helped to create a climate where more and more safety, security and mental health funding is required and that these increased expenditures now compete with all the other important, long-standing educational needs facing each school district?

Further, which state legislators simply view their firearm-friendly actions in isolation while thinking of themselves as proud protectors of the Second Amendment – perhaps like the two Indiana lawmakers given the Defender of Freedom Award at this year's NRA meeting in Indianapolis – rather than seeing themselves more realistically and fairly as contributors to our state's firearm-related violence which has caused tax dollars to be drained from educating students to a school district's ever-increasing safety, security and mental health needs? Regardless of the answers, there is one course ofaction Hoosiers must demand.

In the next legislative session, our elected officials need to set aside funding to create a longitudinal data collection process on the rising cost of safety, security and mental health measures being undertaken by school districts statewide in response to increasing firearm-related violence.

With this information in hand, state officials can then develop a data-driven dashboard for school districts, the Department of Education and the general public to help quantify what is being done, how much is being spent and what the best next steps are in combating firearm-related violence. In other words, what works, what does not and how much it all costs to provide safety, security and mental health measures that now compete with other crucial educational needs such as classroom instruction and beyond.

Who knows, perhaps this dashboard display of all the tax-generated dollars now being spent on safety, security and mental health measures to combat firearm-related violence will finally cause Hoosiers to rise up and demand a rethink and redo on some, if not many, of our firearm-friendly and NRA-friendly laws currently on the books. Laws that have a profound impact on each school district's budget and bottom line.

Greg Slyford is a retired Fort Wayne educator.