State on the clock to roll out $20 million in grants

The end-of-school-year crush is real in the classroom — and this year, Idaho’s Office of School Safety and Security is on a deadline, too.

The goal is to start getting $20 million in state grants out the door within a few weeks, so schools can work on safety upgrades during the first few weeks of summer break. That in turn would allow schools to work while buildings are empty — and wrap up their projects before the fall.

“We’re on a really accelerated timeframe,” Office of School Safety and Security Manager Mike Munger said last week.

Munger hopes to have a grant coordinator hired within the next couple weeks.

The 2023 Legislature approved the grants, one-time money to cover safety upgrades.

The first phase of the grants won’t be competitive. In essence, any school district or charter with an eligible project stands to get a chunk of this money. Schools can use the money for a number of projects:

  • Construction work designed to restrict access into schools — such as secured entryways, fencing, gates or locking classroom doors.
  • Improved communication systems: upgrades to PA systems, or two-way radios that link schools and first responders.
  • Fire system upgrades, such as equipment that can detect a fire and send out alerts to the local fire department.
  • Camera system repairs, or replacing old analog systems with digital.

Munger isn’t sure how much of the $20 million will go into this phase of the grant process — or the second phase, a competitive grant process that will cover more extensive work.

These one-time grants won’t help pay for staffing, such as school resource officers or armed security guards. And as districts try to find money for staffing elsewhere, several will turn to voters on May 16.

On a $734 million school election day, at least half a dozen districts propose to use a share of property taxes on safety personnel. For example, the Coeur d’Alene School District earmarks $1.65 million of a $25 million-a-year supplemental levy for school resource officers, staffing, services and supplies. The Parma and West Bonner districts also propose using a share of their supplemental levies to hire SROs.

However, better equipment can help schools use their staff more effectively, Munger said. If a principal doesn’t have to keep checking doors to make sure they’re locked, he or she will have more time to pay attention to kids.

“We’re really shifting the people who know how kids work, back into that work,” Munger said.

The security grants are a first of its kind for Idaho — and unique nationally, Munger said. Other states are investing money in safety and security upgrades, but usually as they build new state-funded schools. Idaho will use its state dollars to install security equipment in schools that are  locally designed and almost entirely locally funded.

The $20 million should make some considerable headway on safety projects, Munger said. But even if this money runs out — and millions of dollars of worthy projects go unfunded — he says he will have data in hand to make a funding pitch to the 2024 Legislature.

“I think that’s our intention, to give that good information to policymakers,” he said.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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