Legislators have the means to make Michigan schools safer. Since Republicans have control of the House, the Senate, and the Governorship, they will need to lead the initiative. Here are three relatively uncontroversial ways they can help us protect school children.
1. Intermediate School Districts (ISDs) should be put in charge of school safety. ISDs are supposed to serve the needs of local school districts. However, many ISDs have millions of dollars in their fund balances that they could be using to help local school districts. Republicans should pass a law putting each ISD in charge of school safety for the districts they serve. ISDs should be required to hire at least one school liaison officer for every five school districts they serve so that each school has an officer in their district at least once a week. These officers should do more than just provide an armed presence in schools. They should be in charge of making sure safety protocol are being followed by school personnel. They should lead professional development sessions on school safety in every district at least once a year. They should be in charge of making sure that all safety drills (fire, tornado, lock-down, etc.) are carried out as required by state law. The ISDs have the money, they just need the directive. Every school district in the state should have at least a part time school liaison officer by next school year.
2. Every school in the state should have their front entrance upgraded to the latest safety standards. Schools should have a waiting area where visitors can talk to school personnel without actually entering the building. Only those people who have permission, and a valid reason, should be buzzed into the building during school hours. The State of Michigan has 500 million dollars in its rainy day fund. Michigan Budget Director John Nix wants to keep the money in the fund to protect our credit rating. Forget credit ratings. Let’s protect our kids from having bullets rain down on them, or from being abducted by parents who have lost their custodial rights.
3. There is a lot of disagreement about how to stop school violence, especially when it comes to guns. However, there seems to be a consensus that we need to do a better job of providing help for the mentally ill. However, Michigan schools are failing miserably at providing those mental health services to students. The school counselor-to-student ratio before many of the most recent budget cuts was at 638 to 1, 6th worst in the nation according to Bridge Magazine. Unlike many states, Michigan does not have a law dictating the minimum counselor-to-student ratio so it is easy to cut counselors out when budgets get tight. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250 to 1. The legislature should immediately pass a law that sets a ratio at no more than 450 to 1, which is around the national average. School districts should also free counselors of clerical work and administrative work so that they can perform the counseling services for which they are trained. The funding for this initiative could be obtained by recapturing money originally meant for K-12 schools that is now being spend elsewhere. Republicans should immediately pass a law that explicitly states that the school aid fund can only be used for K-12 education. Dipping into it for any other use is literally stealing from our children future and jeopardizing their safety.
Everyone agrees that we cannot stop all school violence. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said “Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” I encourage you to sign this petition to encourage our state government to pass these safeguards into law. Our children do not have a voice or a vote in Lansing. Let yours speak for them.