Gov. Tom Wolf 6-30-2015

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at the Capitol in Harrisburg on June 30, 2015.

HARRISBURG – Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that $5 million in Safe Schools Initiative Targeted Grants have been awarded to nearly 140 schools, police departments, and municipalities across the state.

“Whether students are learning in one of our large cities or a rural community, they need a secure and supportive environment to do their best in the classroom,” said Wolf. “This funding enables schools and communities to have the resources they need to keep students safe, and it builds on our commitment to kids, parents and teachers across the commonwealth.”

The $5 million is mostly split between two pots, one directed at equipment and programs and another that helps cover the cost of putting police officers in schools.

The amount the state spends on school safety hasn’t changed since 2013-14, said Steve Robinson, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Board Association.

“We've been supportive of this grant money and anecdotally, schools appreciate having an additional source of money to help cover costs for school safety upgrades and/or school resource officers,” Robinson said. “Any funding put toward the safety of our students and staff is money well spent. Could more be done with more money? Sure, but you can say that about almost anything.”

The funding can be particularly useful for rural school districts that can be miles from the nearest police station, said Edward Albert, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Small and Rural Schools.

Still, with the funding spread across so many schools its impact on any one location is going to be limited.

“It’s good we got the money,” he said. “But do the math. It’ll make a dent in a big problem.”

He said that the funding will likely be used for things schools may have intended to buy anyway rather than spur them to embark on a new safety initiative.

“It’s better than nothing.”

The investment in school safety is laudable, said Bonita Allen, president of the Pennsylvania PTA.

“We’re in favor of that,” she said.

The national PTA in 1987 passed a resolution calling on schools to take steps to prevent violence in schools. One of the key takeaways of that resolution is to encourage schools to involve parents in the decision-making on school safety policies and to inform the public about those policies, Allen said.

The federally funded program will provide $1.4 million to 79 public school entities for programs that prevent and reduce violent incidents and to procure security/safety-related equipment.

The safety equipment includes student, staff and visitor identification systems; metal detectors; protective lighting; surveillance equipment; special emergency communications equipment; electronic locksets; deadbolts and theft control devices; and training in the use of the security-related technology.

To provide funding for the training and compensation of school resource officers and school police officers, $2.5 million has been awarded to 60 school entities, municipalities and police departments. Applicants were eligible for a maximum individual grant of $60,000 for a School Resource Officer and $40,000 for a School Police Officer. A school resource officer is employed by the local police department, but works in the school. The school police officer is a school district employee.

Schools that received funding last year for police officers under the grant program were barred from seeking money again this year.

The remainder of the $5 million, $900,000, goes toward the state’s share of second-year funding for police officers approved last year.

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.

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