Following the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, former National Governors Association (NGA) Chair Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, and former NGA Vice Chair and current Chair New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy wrote a letter to President Biden informing him of the establishment of NGA’s Governors’ Bipartisan Working Group on School and Community Safety.
The bipartisan working group set two goals. The first goal was to advocate for bipartisan federal legislation to make schools and communities safer from threats of gun violence. The second goal was to explore recommended best practices around potential uses for new federal dollars for states and territories to address these issues.
On June 25, 2022, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) was signed into law. The bipartisan working group sought to build upon and work with the Administration and Congress after the enactment of the BSCA. Discussions focused on common sense solutions, such as enhancing school and community-based mental health services, improving school safety resources, and working to keep firearms out of the hands of those who may cause harm to themselves or others.
Members of the bipartisan workgroup included the following:
- Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson
- New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy
- Utah Governor Spencer Cox
- Maryland Governor Larry Hogan
- New York Governor Kathy Hochul
- Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont
- South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster
- Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer
Working Group Activities
Between June and October 2022, the bipartisan working group met in person and virtually half a dozen times both at the Governor and Governor staff level to identify solutions that give state and local leaders tools to promote effective measures in their respective communities. Governors also discussed the implementation of the BSCA, and relevant public safety, mental health, and education provisions within it.
In addition to these meetings, the bipartisan working group also convened a three-part briefing series for gubernatorial staff and state and territorial officials on improving school and community safety. Briefing topics included improving mental health services, increasing supportive services in schools, leveraging public safety funding, and best practices states and school districts can take to keep schools safe. Briefings featured high-level officials from the federal government, key private sector stakeholders and subject matter experts to discuss best practices, allowable uses and the timeline of BSCA fund distributions, as well as next steps for implementation. States and territories were given the opportunity to ask questions and share ideas for how they intend to address these issues in their respective states and territories.
Working Group Considerations
As leaders of their states and territories, Governors have a unique opportunity to bring multiple systems and stakeholders together to identify the state and territory role in aligning education, health/behavioral health, and public safety sector initiatives to promote student well-being and safety. Recognizing each state, territory, and commonwealth is unique, the bipartisan working group sought to identify solutions that give state, territory and local leaders the tools and resources necessary to take important steps to prevent and combat gun violence, particularly in schools. In developing the briefing series and convening to share best practices, the working group identified the following considerations for states and territories, with recent gubernatorial-led examples noted below:
- Bolstering Governance Structures. Includes engaging, convening, and coordinating stakeholders to identify gaps/needs and develop statewide plans for action.
- – Arkansas issued an executive order reinstating the Arkansas School Safety Commission.
- – Michigan’s School Safety and Mental Health Commission will convene and make recommendations to reduce youth suicides and strengthen the mental health of school-aged children and their families.
- Enhancing Stakeholder Coordination. Includes coordination with the federal government, local partners, law enforcement, and other stakeholders and leveraging existing state and territorial efforts to support school safety, mental health, public safety, and victim services. This also includes ongoing communication and collaboration with federal partners as the BSCA is further implemented.
- – New Jersey announced a $6.5 million investment in American Rescue Plan funds for a Statewide School Security Initiative to collect and digitize school building blueprints and make them available to first responders to improve coordination.
- – Pennsylvania expects to use BSCA funds to support existing safe and healthy school programs, certain specialty courts, and mental health services.
- Ensuring Mental Health Systems and Supports. Includes providing training for school staff and students to recognize behavioral health needs, understanding the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma and deploying appropriate supports, access to treatment, and access to comprehensive wellness.
- – New York announced the availability of $2.5 million to create and support a Mental Health Resource and Training Technical Assistance Center for Schools, which will support all New York schools and assist them in providing mental health education as part of the K-12 health curricula.
- – Tennessee issued an executive order directing the Department of Education to identify regional staff to support school safety in law enforcement agencies through repurposing existing staff to focus on safety, mental health, and family and community engagement, amongst other actions.
- Strengthening Student Well-being and School Culture. Includes programs and resources that support the social, emotional, mental and behavioral health, and well-being of students.
- – Legislation was signed in Connecticut to increase mental health services for children. The legislation expands services for students and helps schools hire more social workers and counselors. The legislation also helps families pay for mental health treatment, as well as provides around-the-clock mobile response services.
- – Utah expanded its SafeUT app, which is designed for students, and others, in Utah schools to report concerns, such as bullying or mental health issues, and access crisis care or counselors through it.
- Discussing Gun Safety Considerations. Includes considerations for ensuring safeguards are in place for responsible purchasing.
- – Michigan signed an executive directive instructing Michigan state departments and law enforcement agencies to utilize federal resources from the BSCA to reduce crime and gun violence. All departments and agencies must identify a designee to coordinate across state government. The Michigan State Police (MSP) must explore ways to improve Michigan’s process for reporting criminal, mental health, and juvenile records to national criminal databases. MSP must also establish the Community Violence Intervention Office which will coordinate state and federal grants related to community violence intervention programming.
- – New York outlined plans to launch a robust and multifaceted public education campaign surrounding New York’s newly expanded Red Flag Law, with a specific focus on educators and mental health professionals. State leaders will also convene a series of roundtables specifically for local and county law enforcement, where they will detail new policies and procedures required under the law and best practices for implementation.
- Safeguarding School Safety Evaluations, Training, and Emergency Plans. Includes identifying issues, conducting threat assessments, detailing emergency response plans, staff crisis intervention and other training, and developing solutions for physical safety concerns.
- – Legislation signed in Michigan will fund risk assessments and critical incidence mapping to help protect students and create safety plans in the event of an emergency.
- – Legislation was signed in New Jersey requiring the board of education in each school district in the state to develop and adopt a policy for the establishment of a threat assessment team at their respective schools.
- – Ohio announced that more than 1,000 K-12 schools across the state will receive financial assistance to pay for security upgrades that enhance the safety of students and staff. Funds will be used to cover expenses associated with physical security enhancements such as security cameras, public address systems, automatic door locks, visitor badging systems, and exterior lighting.
- Increasing Communication Capabilities. Includes ensuring interoperability of communications systems to convey information during emergencies.
- – The 2022 Arkansas School Safety Commission report, approved by the Governor, recommended that school districts should develop layered, two-way communication access between staff members and administrative staff via various platforms to ensure information sharing and improved alert processes.
- – Massachusetts has proposed matching grants for security and communications upgrades in K-12 schools and public higher education initiatives.
Governors can all agree that there are commonsense ways to prevent these tragic events, and states and territories must work together to do everything in their collective power to protect their communities and the country’s most vulnerable citizens—children. Governors are committed to using federal funding from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022 to promote effective measures in their respective communities to combat gun violence and instill confidence in communities and schools.