The rush to magically make schools safe from “active shooters” now has a very real price tag in South Carolina: $30 million to $40 million.
That’s what some South Carolina senators say it would take to foot the bill for a police officer in every public school in the state. The estimate is attached to a bill filed by Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, and, interestingly, co-sponsored by Senate Republican leader John Courson, R-Richland, and 13 others, including Kent Williams, D-Marion, and Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg. The significant, bipartisan sponsorship suggests the bill has some chance of actual passage. It is mirrored by a bill filed in the House.
What’s interesting about Setzler’s bill is that while it has the feel of grandstanding, it does not employ the usual tactics of such legislation. It proposes a solution and provides the resources to actually pay for it, too. More typical is a grand solution that includes either no funding or mandated funding – by somebody else.
Of course, for a policeman-in-every-school mandate to work, the funding has to be in place. It’s not clear that a real policeman would have stopped the Newtown, Conn., shooting, Thursday’s shooting in Atlanta, or any others. But there’s no doubt that a theoretical policeman still awaiting government funding would have been no help at all.
Such funding would be particularly critical in South Carolina, where most of the state’s small, financially struggling districts would be hard pressed to find the funds to pay for another police officer or two. Although most districts already have middle school and high school school resources officers as standard operating procedure, some poorer districts do not.
What’s really interesting about the Setzler bill is that it proposes state funding not only for new officers, but for existing officers as well. The $40 million figure is based on paying for an officer in each of the state’s 1,200-plus public schools, even though local funding is already in place for a number of those schools. The net effect would not only be somewhat safer schools, but a windfall for many districts, who could use SRO money for something else.
It all sounds pretty good from the school and parent point of view. But a taxpayer, or a fiscally conservative legislator, might shake their heads. A new, $30 million to $40 million budget item is not going to bust the state budget, but the money has to come from somewhere. Will taxes go up? Will new revenue be shifted away from some other initiative? Will some other program be forced to close to allow gun-packing security guards to roam every school ground in the state?
It can be argued – already has been in this case – that no price is too great to pay for the safety of our children. No one would argue with that, but is this price really buying that much safety?
Common sense, and the opinion of security experts, suggests a policeman in every school would make those schools somewhat safer. They would have some deterrent effect, and, if all schools assumed the proper physical posture – single entry points, controlled entry access, etc. – it would be harder to break in. But we doubt all schools will adopt such a posture - we’re sure that not all around here have yet done so – and we’re skeptical that they would work even if that did. To point out just one significant problem, the age of school buildings across the state, and across the district, varies so much as to make uniform security options difficult to imitate. Once upon a time, schools were welcoming places that invited visitors to enter with doors all over the place. In today’s stranger society, a fortress or detention center seems more the model. Converting the old structure to the new is no easy proposition.
Still, it’s wrong, we believe, to give up on school safety solutions just because they aren’t foolproof.
A policeman in every school will make every school at least a little safer.
Is that worth $40 million?
That is the question.