PreK-12 schools have the third highest number of active shooter incidents, according to a 2021 FBI report. Protecting schools through threat identification, emergency planning, security upgrades, and taking advantage of the government's safe school fund initiatives are key ways to address this.
While schools may be underfunded locally, the U.S. federal government has continued to increase grants and other allocations to help with school safety. Educators need to act now as the safe school funds have a deadline.
What Educators Should Know About Funding for Safe School Initiatives
We spoke with Dr. Don Gemeinhardt (Dr. G.), Bluum Grants and Funding Advisor, to provide some expert insights on this. Dr. G. shared how educators can capture and maximize available ESSER funds to their advantage.
Question: Why are schools not taking advantage of the funding and grants available?
Dr. G: There is a shortage of people who know about the grants available. Since 2020, schools have only spent a portion of available funding for COVID-19 problems. For instance, there has been a lack of action to apply for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) and funds under EANS (non-profit schools), HEERF (colleges), and GEER (governor's emergency funding). The time it takes to write an effective grant, even on the state application site or the federal grants areas, is a challenge for many educators. It takes a team to complete grants properly, so school districts should take advantage of available resources.
Question: Can you explain more about the available funding sources?
Dr. G: The first major stimulus package from the pandemic was called the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF). It then transitioned to the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) and finally the COVID-19 America's Response Program Act (ARPA), which many call ESSER ARPA or ESSER III and included state, local, territorial and tribal governments.
Nearly 85% of over 250 billion dollars in these grants remains unused.
The federal government continues to extend the use of the funds so schools and states do not have to give them back. In most cases, schools have until September 2025 to use the funds.
Question: What ways can educators use ESSER money?
Dr. G: Although there is still time to act and use these funds, educators can use the funding for more valuable reasons, like school safety.
U.S. Senator Roger Marshall, M.D. and Congressman Mike Garcia (CA-25) just recently introduced the Safe Schools Act, which will allow COVID relief dollars allocated to schools through the ESSER Fund to be used for school safety and security improvements instead. If passed, it would allocate almost $1 million per school for safety which could make a significant difference and shift the funding away from just educational issues and Covid-19 concerns to school safety. It is great to have these funds allocated, but educators must obligate them to turn their potential into reality by exploring documents explaining how to maximize purchases with ESSER funds.
Question: How can educators secure schools in the wake of mass shootings?
Dr. G: Educators can take advantage of the Safer Communities Act (SCA), which addresses various types of gun violence. It funds school violence prevention efforts, training, and implementation of safety measures at primary and secondary schools.
This funding totals $15 billion, including almost $3.5 billion specifically for school safety issues. It includes mental health services for children and families, school safety issues, and training in all areas from faculty, community, and support personnel to student awareness areas, with an extra focus on lower-income areas under various programs. This act also helps our communities control the unsafe, dangerous, criminal use of weapons.
Agencies like the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Education (DOE) and others, along with the states, have one year to implement the funding under this program, and the time limit is five years to complete, which fits most grant requirements.
Question: Do these funds solve the problem?
Dr. G: Schools that have used the available funding have improved their school climate and reduced overall violence, according to the Active Shooter Incidents 20-Year Review. The Institute of Education Services' report on indicators of school crime and safety also highlights areas for improvement. 
For example, between 2009–10 and 2019–20, the percentage of public schools that reported having one or more security staff present at school at least once a week increased from 43 to 65 percent.
Securing Funding For These Important Initiatives
Teachers and students need to feel safe within the dynamic education climate. That entails making smart decisions about funding – for schools, student mental health and school safety. Here are several things you can do to secure funding to improve safety and equity:
- Take advantage of the federal relief from the Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS) program that has established the "Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund" (ESSER) for K–12 school districts.
- Check out FAQs for the EANS program as authorized by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA) and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP).
- Apply for the ESSER funds from your state's department of Education.
- Check out this comprehensive plan to prevent mass shootings and end gun violence in American schools.
- Explore these six ways to spend federal funds.
- U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, May 2021. Active Shooter Incidents 20-Year Review, 2000-2019. [Report]
- The National Center for of Education Statistics at IES, June 2022. Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2021. [Report]