Minnesota legislature weighs changes to free up school safety funding

The Minnesota legislature is considering a bill to loosen up the rules governing state cost-sharing for school districts in an attempt to bolster school safety using those funds, a measure that the bill's proponents say would make schools a less appealing target without necessarily allocating any new money. 

Rep. Jennifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, presented her bill to the legislature Tuesday, hoping change the rules of Minnesota's long-term facilities maintenance fund to allow the money to be used for school security upgrades--given those districts convince taxpayers to approve a levy first.

"I have talked to schools, I have asked if this would be helpful," Loon said. "So far the information that I have received is, 'Yes, this would be a step forward.'"

It's a measure supported by the Bloomington School District, one of the first in the state to implement a safety referendum in 2013. Now, the facility has invested millions of dollars toward improving security, installing security cameras, better locks and other safety measures they say are important in keeping students safe on a daily basis. 

"I do think it’s great that legislators, state, and federal government are looking at ways to address school safety," said Bloomington Public Schools Executive Director of Communications Rick Kaufman. "if someone is bent on doing a lot of harm, they will find ways and that’s why it’s important for us to continue to look at ways to ensure schools are safe."

It's the same story over in Osseo, Minn., where a $16 million--and ever growing--list of school safety upgrades would right now take more than 27 years to complete, though district representatives say Rep. Loon's bill would help shorten that time period significantly.

Gov. Mark Dayton, for his part, is expected to announce tomorrow that he plans to use some of the state's more than $329 million surplus on school security upgrades across the state, a measure that Rep. Loon and school representatives also say they'd support. 

All in all, proponents say, both measures aim to give districts the freedom to determine their own security needs and provide the funding to accomplish those goals. 

"Obviously schools are going to have to make choices about projects on their list," Rep. Loon said. "If they feel improving physical safety at facilities rises above other priorities on their list, if this bill passes it gives them the flexibility to do that."