March for Our Lives: Four congressmen say every child has the right to a school free from violence

The deadly school shooting that claimed 17 lives in Parkland, Florida, last month has highlighted the need for major reforms and improvements to the safety and security at our nation’s schools. The massive March for Our Lives in Washington on Saturday and smaller demonstrations around the country demanded action to reduce gun deaths.

Every child has the right to walk into a classroom and feel safe and encouraged to learn, not scared of violence. This week in Great Mills, Maryland, we saw the benefits of having school safety measures and resources in place, when a school resource officer fatally shot a 17-year-old gunman who had shot two other students – including a 16-year-old girl who later tragically died of her wounds.

We have also seen the terrible consequences when precautions, protocols and coordination with law enforcement are not in place or are not followed and school shootings end with greater numbers of students dead and wounded.

That’s why Republican Main Street members have taken the lead to prioritize legislation and funding in Congress to keep our schools safe. We started the Republican Main Street Caucus School Safety Working Group to identify ways Congress can help and continue to make this issue a national priority. We have been working closely with leadership in the House to ensure we can follow through on these promises.

Last week the House began its effort to provide the necessary infrastructure and resources for students nationwide by overwhelmingly passing a bill led by one of us, Working Group member and former sheriff Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla. The STOP School Violence Act strengthens several vital layers of security and improves school safety by providing funding to give students, law enforcement, teachers, and school officials the tools and training they need to identify signs of violence or suicide and prevent events before they happen.

The STOP School Violence Act also provides schools with resources for technology and equipment to aid in the prevention of violent events. This includes anonymous reporting systems, the development of mobile security apps, and developing local hotlines to report warning signs. The funding can also be used for physical equipment to keep students safe, like metal detectors or locks.

A key provision authored by another one of us, Working Group member and former first responder Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., helps more schools install panic buttons to directly signal law enforcement during a crisis. Nationwide, our banks, office buildings, and even most retail locations, have panic buttons – our schools should have the same ability to contact law enforcement when faced with an emergency. Lastly, the STOP School Violence Act also provides funding to support coordination between our schools and local law enforcement.

These efforts are needed NOW. That’s why another one of us, Main Street Chair Rodney Davis, R-Ill., along with many members of Main Street, called on leadership to fund school safety grants immediately by including them in this year’s must-pass funding bill.

Main Street members were pleased to see our voice make a difference this week, when the must-pass 2018 funding bill not only included the STOP School Violence Act to authorize future school safety programs, but also designated funds for critical school safety grants so we can help schools improve their security systems and protocols immediately.

The legislation passed this week also includes critical funding for other important programs within the Department of Justice, Department of Education, and Department of Health and Human Services that address mental health, student safety and well-being, and fund critical law enforcement programs. Members of Main Street, under the leadership of another one of us – Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., head of the School Safety Working Group – will continue to find ways we can stop violence in our schools.

One bill we have already identified is sponsored by Rep. Steve Knight, R-Calif., called the School Training, Equipment, and Protection (STEP) Act. Before coming to Congress, Rep. Knight was a Los Angeles Police Department officer for 18 years.

The STEP Act was crafted following extensive discussions with law enforcement professionals about improving school safety. This bill would designate $50 million of an existing Department of Education grant program to be used for more physical security measures, like barricade technology, to enable faculty to quickly strengthen doors and windows in the event of an active threat situation.

The safety of our students, teachers and school personnel should be paramount. While there are many facets to this problem and more solutions needed to put an end to this devastating violence, equipping our schools with adequate safety measures is a critical first step. We will continue to work with our partners in Congress, as well as with school officials and law enforcement, to ensure the next generation of students can learn in schools free from violence.

Republican U.S. Reps. Don Bacon of Nebraska; Mike Bost and Rodney Davis of Illinois; and John Rutherford of Florida are founding members of the School Safety Working Group, part of the Republican Main Street Caucus. Bacon is the leader of the working group and Davis is the caucus chairman.