Safe schools remains live issue
HARRISBURG - Safeguarding schools from violence remains a live issue as state lawmakers work this week to approve the next state budget before Sunday's deadline.
The issue is being addressed on two fronts with legislation moving to expand the scope of state school safety grants and a pending budget appropriation, said Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-25, Jefferson County.
"I am currently asking for $10 million (for safe school grants) in the budget," he said.
Scarnati is involved in the negotiations with Gov. Tom Corbett and House leaders to shape the final 2013-14 state budget.
The House is acting on Scarnati's Senate-approved bill to allow schools to use these state grants to help pay for school resource officers and emergency training and violence prevention programs.
The House Education Committee approved the bill last week and it will head to a chamber floor vote. The measure was amended to give priority for awarding grants that would support school resource officers who have completed additional state-recommended training relating to interaction with children and adolescents in a school setting.
This amendment is acceptable to senators, said Scarnati.
Rep. Kevin Haggerty, D-112, Dunmore, has called for state funding to place school resource officers in elementary school buildings since he took office in January.
He plans to offer a bill amendment to provide more state funding for safety grants than what Scarnati is seeking.
"I just don't think $10 million is enough," he said.
But Haggerty said he will still vote for the bill.
"We've had progress and movement on key pieces of what was recommended to us," said Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp., who as chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedess Committee, held hearings on the school safety issue earlier this year.
At one hearing, educators from Northeast Pennsylvania said policymakers should take a comprehensive approach to school safety, focusing not only on the threat from shooters, but also violence stemming from domestic disputes, child custody cases and gang activities.
Baker raised school safety issues when she met last week with William Harner, Corbett's nominee for state education secretary. He is currently superintendent of Cumberland Valley School District. The senator is weighing potential legislation to revamp the state Office of State Schools.
Meanwhile, the Senate approved a bill last week to allow the use of audio recordings on school buses for disciplinary and security purposes provided the local school board approves a policy authorizing the practice and notifies students and parents of the policy. The measure which goes to the House provides an exception from state wiretapping laws for the use of audio recordings in these circumstances only.
"The use of video recording devices on school buses has served as an effective deterrent to physical violence," said Sen. Richard Alloway, R-33, Chambersburg, the bill sponsor. "Extending this protection by allowing audio recording would be a valuable tool in resolving disputes and preventing verbal bullying."
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