WINDSOR HEIGHTS, Iowa — The goal of the state’s $100 million investment in school safety was to get several different aspects up and running by the time the new school year started.
The hefty investment comes backed by federal COVID-19 dollars from the American Rescue Plan and ESSER funds. The program allocated $75 million for the school safety improvement fund. That dollar amount gives the estimated 1,500 school buildings in the state each $50,000 to spend on improving safety infrastructure.
Another big part of the $100 million was the $7.5 million that is being used for vulnerability assessments for every school building in the state.
“So the assessment, the governor has given us a timeline to have them all done by the end of next year,” said John Benson, the Director of the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “So we have got roughly 1,500 buildings to get through in roughly 17 months.”
There have been 56 assessments done so far, and that number is expected to ramp up once the school year is well underway. Benson said that there will be a contractor that serves as the main assessment provider, as the agency is too small to handle all the assessments themselves.
“So moving forward, like I said, obviously we can’t support doing 1,500 schools. So we have to leverage a master agreement where we go out and hire a contractor to do it,” said Benson.
Benson outlined what is looked for doing a vulnerability assessment, which includes: a locking system for doors, what can be done to the exterior of the building to guarantee people can’t get in, and how do they make it safer once there is an intrusion into the building, etc. Benson shared his thoughts on $50,000 would be enough for some buildings.
“So it’s going to be a holistic approach, recognizing that $50,000 won’t address every single issue,” said Benson. “But it’s going to be able to make a sizable dent improvement in those issues that we do find.”
Schools are able to use ESSER funds that were left over to cover more school safety projects, Governor Reynolds cleared those dollars for that usage back in June.
A parent that has two children in the Waukee Community School District said that she is glad these dollars are being used this way and hopes this is just a stepping stone for more funding.
“I think it’s a really good start. I hope that the schools are allowed to use it as they see fit based off what their needs are in their district,” said Becky Pospisal. “I hope it’s the start of more things for our schools and our educators. I would love to see some more mental health funding in conjunction with this.”
Pospisal likes the proactive action rather than reactive.
“It’s super naive of me as a parent to think that couldn’t happen because it could happen anywhere and it has happened anywhere,” said Pospisal. “So it worries me, it always worries me, it’s in the back of my mind, something could happen to my kids. So I’m hopeful that this is the start of something in Iowa that we can be change leaders in the country and not make excuses or sit back and watch something happen.”
According to the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the goal is for school districts to spend the $50,000 before the end of the 2024 school year.
This rollout is the larger part of the $100 million investment, but there are still tens of millions of dollars used to give out emergency radios for every school building, creating critical mapping technology and reporting applications. WHO 13 News will have more details to share on how that part of the program has been rolling out so far at the end of the week.