EXCLUSIVE: The top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is warning the Biden administration that “confusion” about funds granted in last year’s bipartisan school safety bill could lead to “dangerous delays” in protecting campuses from mass shooting events.
Cassidy called on Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to direct his department to clarify that schools can use funding from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) to boost their security and hold security training sessions. He also demanded a written plan of action that includes how the administration plans to “remove federal administrative barriers to the spending of dollars by districts” under the law.
He said school officials have had difficulty accessing the funds needed for “hardening schools” – which includes measures such as fortifying them with single-entry points, reinforcing windows and doors, and fencing.
“I share your concern about how slowly BSCA funding is moving and agree that addressing mental health, especially the mental health of students in the wake of the pandemic and school closures, is crucial. However, physical improvements and hardening schools is also imperative to ensure our students’ safety and therefore included in BSCA,” Cassidy wrote in a letter to Cardona.
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“States and district leaders need to know that they can and should use these funds to harden schools. Any confusion about that fact could lead to dangerous delays in protecting our students,” he added.
The senator was among the lead negotiators on the historic firearm and school safety measure, which allocated over $1 billion for the Education Department to spend on school mental health services, and another $1 billion for school improvements, as well as support for state crisis interventions and created penalties for straw purchasing and trafficking of guns.
Cassidy’s letter was sent shortly after a mass shooting earlier this week a Christian elementary school in Nashville. A 28-year-old former student of the private school returned to the campus on March 27 and opened fire, killing three students and three teachers before being shot dead by police.
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The Biden administration has renewed pressure on federal lawmakers to act on stricter gun control measures in the shooting’s wake – which is highly unlikely in the divided Congress.
But at least one academic official, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley, indicated that the administration still needs to improve on the measures its already rolled out.
Brumley told Fox News Digital that his schools “struggled” to access the funding they needed and credited Cassidy with helping them get dollars toward “structured access control.”
“My intent was to utilize these one-time funds to harden our school perimeters. Initially, we struggled to gain approval from ED to use the funds in this manner,” Brumley said.
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The Education Department’s website for the BSCA does not explicitly display a section for school security. On a document featuring frequently asked questions for the grant program, it prohibits usage of funds for “school construction.”
“The Department needs to provide a written action plan, within two weeks, detailing how it will issue explicit guidance and technical assistance to states and districts on using BSCA funds for school hardening,” Cassidy wrote. He added that this plan needs to be publicized and that Cardona’s department should provide technical assistance on how to use the law to access security funding.
He warned, “If any of these timelines are not met, I immediately request a briefing by you personally.”
Earlier this month, Cardona spoke at an event where he slammed states who he accused of being slow to roll out the BSCA’s funding. “We’ve got to do better,” the Biden official said. “Our students are in great need now.”
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