Gov. Asa Hutchinson will make funding for the Criminal Justice Institute’s Center for School Safety a permanent line item in the state budget, he announced at the Institute’s Arkansas Safe Schools Conference on Monday (July 15).
Hutchinson noted he provided $400,000 this year out of discretionary funds for the Center, which provides training, resources and technical assistance to educators and law enforcers. In 2018, he directed $300,000 in discretionary funds for training school resource officers. There are now 370 in the state’s 238 districts.
Hutchinson said the funding should be permanent because the Center is a long-term necessity.
In addition, Hutchinson said he has asked for $800,000 for panic button systems for the upcoming school year.
He said he wants districts to be able to select the systems they use, so he has asked the Office of State Procurement to work with the Criminal Justice Institute and its director, Dr. Cheryl May, to create a request for proposal so multiple vendors can qualify.
Hutchinson’s Arkansas School Safety Commission, appointed last year after 17 people were killed in the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., created 30 recommendations.
He noted that following that report, the number of school resource officers has increased, and school districts have more options for armed protection. Those options include creating a law enforcement agency within the district under this year’s Act 629. As another option, some school districts are using commissioned school security officers, or armed staff members. Act 190, the School Counseling Improvement Act passed by legislators this year, requires school districts to implement a comprehensive school counseling program and requires counselors to spend 90% of their time in direct counseling activities.
He pointed to the Green Forest School District, which audited its school safety and security and then added school resource officers so that each building has one in uniform with a police car. The district also numbered its hallways, installed special windows, installed mirrors to make it easier to see around corners, added speed bumps, and armed several employees who completed active shooter training and learned first aid.
“It is a response to what we all know is our current society and that is that there is risk out there and that we have to give confidence to the parents that send their children to school that our school is safe,” he said. “They have to have that confidence.”