School safety is not on any ballots in 2018 — at least not in the traditional sense. But it’s on the minds of parents and conscientious community members, and it’s possible for voters to push an agenda that will make kids safer, if not entirely safe. And the time is now. There have been 18 school shootings in 2018. At least 142 kids have been killed and another 287 injured. These numbers may inspire feelings of helplessness. They shouldn’t.
School safety may be a tough issue to parse out, but research has given us a good notion of what works. The answer isn’t to arm teachers in the classroom, but arming teachers might not hurt. The answer isn’t even gun control — at least not exclusively. New data suggests that local gun laws do little to halt school shooters as long as national laws remain lax or loopholes lie just across a border. School safety is an agenda and gun control, school funding, and access to mental healthcare are all part of what is needed to accomplish that agenda. So, where do we start?
What is the Nature of the Threat?
It doesn’t take the most tapped-in news junkie to understand the state of school safety in America right now. In 2018, there has been the highest number of school shootings since 1999 (historically the trend has been downward). That’s the highest of any number of school shootings since 1999. Almost 500 people, kids and school staff alike, have been killed and injured in the line of fire while trying to get an education in this year so far. 2018 has been more deadly for kids in school than people in armed service. However, these numbers cannot (and should not) be understood solely as evidence of problems with gun policy. They may represent evidence of problems in gun policy, but school shooters are actually more common in areas with tighter gun laws, which somewhat complicates the issue. For parents, this should drive home the idea that safety is not just about guns — though it is about guns — but about community and mental health services.
Although many of these issues have been the topic of much debate and political activism in the country, with an entire political activist group of survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting organizing national protests and marches, the threat to schools from shooters is best understood in terms of lacking resources and, more specifically, in terms of the lack of adults ready to step in and address problem behaviors. It so happens that increased resources are also a means of curbing non-shooting violence so this is the best place to start.
Follow the Money
That sounds simplistic, but the reality is that increased education funding would put cash behind critical school programs and potentially finance the employment of qualified student counselors, a full-time nurse, better teachers, or smaller class sizes, all of which would go quite far towards helping children with issues — and helping educators find them. Voting for increasing education funding will no doubt flow into numerous programs that can contribute to the whole student and school.
A report by the Surgeon General states that one in five kids will have a mental health condition during their school years. That’s 20 percent of kids. Making sure they have access to programs like those sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which brings community health professionals into schools as a way to supplement the burden on school counselors (in America, there is one counselor for every 471 students), trains teachers and existing school personnel on mental health for kids. It also trains students to seek out and recognize if their peers are struggling, which can be extremely helpful for kids. It should be noted that increasing school funding would be the most effective: over the past 10 years, funding for mental health programs in public schools has dropped 600 million dollars annually.
Remember that school shootings are also only one form of school violence. Bullying can increase rates of anxiety and depression in kids, make them feel lonely, lose sleep, have trouble enjoying play, and might lower their grades, making them at risk for dropping out.
There are several states that have midterm ballot initiatives that would indeed provide more funding or kill it in the water: Colorado’s Amendment 73, Florida’s Amendment 5, Hawaii’s State Bill 2292, (which was ruled invalid by Hawaii’s Supreme Court), North Carolina’s Senate Bill 75, and Utah’s Nonbinding Question 1. Many politicians in state legislature, gubernatorial, and national races have also brought up the issue of education funding. This is critical to making sure that schools are safe.
School safety is also a healthcare issue. Making sure that all people have access to mental health care providers or even a primary care physician that they see somewhat regularly can help people get the attentive care that they might need. Many of these physicians are mandatory reporters; they could help stop violence before it begins. They can also help young kids who are struggling and provide a sense of support for children, no matter their income or circumstances. Politicians who support repealing Obamacare or who refuse to expand Medicaid access in their state are actively harming kids and making it harder for them to see doctors and professionals.
Idaho, Nebraska, Utah, and Montana have Medicaid expansion on the ballot. Voters in these states will decide whether or not to expand and continue funding Medicaid, which now covers people under 65 at 133 percent of the federal poverty level or below.
Although a political non-starter in many states, tighter gun restrictions could save kids’ lives. Just remember that local laws are important, but national laws seem to be the problem. As it stands, it’s easy for those with bad intentions to utilize loopholes or find friends willing to do so in an effort to help them out. Tightening of gun control laws may be increasingly important in an era of heightened ethnic tensions. White supremacist groups regularly target black children and racially motivated school attacks, though not the norm, would be in line with a national trend towards violence aimed at minorities.
Washington’s Initiative 1639 allows voters to decide whether or not to strengthen background checks, lengthen waiting periods, and increase penalties for people who don’t properly store their guns.
Is School Safety One of the Candidate’s Issues?
Candidates who support increasing education funding, paying teachers more, expanding health care programs and increasing affordability of those programs are good on school safety regardless of whether their platform specifically mentions the issue. It is not unlikely that some candidates will check one or more of those boxes and also be a vocal antagonist of gun legislation. (Check out their NRA ratings!) If this is the situation, parents should make a judgment call while keeping in mind that local gun laws may be less important than local access to mental health care and higher school budgets.