FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Funding for a school safety program in Kentucky has been cut by almost 60 percent over the last five years.
The Courier-Journal (http://cjky.it/UcP6p1 ) reports funding for the Safe Schools Program has decreased from $10.4 million in 2007-2008 to $4.5 million in the current school year. The funding cut has led to less safety audits being performed at schools around the state by the Kentucky Center for School Safety.
Some state lawmakers and education leaders say the cuts need to be reviewed in light of shootings last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults.
"It's something we're going to have to look at in light of what happened at Sandy Hook. But we should wait and see what exactly happened in Connecticut," said Democratic state Rep. Carl Rollins, who heads the House Education Committee. "Our schools are still safe places."
The Center for School Safety has reduced training programs and canceled a safety conference this year, said agency Director Jon Akers. He says 90 school safety audits were performed annually when the center was fully funded, but this year there will be 57.
"The cuts have limited what I can do and what superintendents can do, but we still try to find ways to make things happen," Akers said. "We still provide training, technical assistance and safe school assessments in the school districts, but not as much as I would like."
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said he too thinks the funding cut should be reviewed, though he is confident that schools around the state are safe.
"I worry that we're not able to do as many school safety audits as we would like," he said.
The Kentucky Center for School Safety, which is based at Eastern Kentucky University, was formed by the General Assembly in 1998 in the aftermath of a shooting at Heath High School in West Paducah that killed three students and injured five.
Funding for the program — and several others — has dwindled as the weakened economy brought in less tax revenue.
"This is symptomatic of a larger problem we have in Kentucky of bearing our responsibilities to the citizens we're supposed to serve," said state Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville. "Until we face up to the financial crisis that we're in, so many important support services for children and others will continue to erode."
Responding to the newspaper article, Gov. Steve Beshear told WHAS-AM Wednesday that the safety program and others suffered through the recession.
"I do think though that we have worked hard to make our schools safe, and I don't think that the plunge in that money means that they're not safe, but obviously we could do better," Beshear said.
"All schools have a safety plan," he said. "They review them and update them, and we encourage that and obviously encouraged it again after the tragedy in Connecticut. But what it does limit is some of the auditing that we can do in looking at the different plans and making sure that they're as updated as possible. So when we move forward in the next budget session, we're going to take a serious look at that."
Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said school safety needs have always been funded through a combination of state, local and federal funds.
The reduced state funding "is another example of the fact that we have revenue needs for K-12 schools," Hughes said. "If we had that full $10 million back would it improve things in schools? Absolutely. But could it absolutely prevent something like what happened in Connecticut from happening here? No."
Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com