The U.S. Department of Education announced Sept. 15 that it is making $1 billion in school safety funding available to states to provide “healthier learning environments” for students nationwide.
The Stronger Connections Grant, included in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, will be distributed by state educational agencies on a competitive basis to high-need local educational agencies, who can use the funds for activities authorized in ESEA Section 4108. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said that states should use the funding to prioritize funding for programs to provide safe and supportive learning environments for schools that serve students who are most at-risk.
“Research consistently shows that safe, inclusive, and supportive learning environments are associated with improved academic achievement and emotional well-being of students, as well as with reductions in disciplinary actions,” Cardona said. “Therefore, to maximize the positive and lasting impact of these funds, the Department is encouraging States to prioritize funds for LEA applicants that demonstrate a strong commitment” to several priorities.
Specifically, Cardona urged states to support proposals from high-need local education agencies to:
- Implement comprehensive evidence-based strategies to meet social, emotional, physical and mental needs of students; establish positive, supportive, and inclusive learning environments, and increase access to place-based interventions and services.
- Engage students, families, educators, staff, and the community in the selection of interventions that create safe, inclusive, and supportive learning environments.
- Design and implement policies to advance equity and respond to the needs of students who have been historically underserved, protect student rights, and respect student dignity and potential.
Cardona encouraged recipients to use the funds for professional development, emergency management planning, and trauma- and grief-informed behavioral and mental health support rather than for infrastructure improvements for school safety. “While limited infrastructure improvements (e.g., the repair of locks and building entry improvement) are permissible under ESEA Section 4108, it is important to note that there is some research that shows that visible security measures alone — and without efforts to promote student learning, growth and positive learning environments — may have detrimental effects, and some of these measures are unlikely to reduce or eliminate serious incidents.”
That aligns with a letter sent by congressional Democrats in July 2022 that raised concerns about the use of the new SCG funding for hardening campuses or increasing the level of policing in school environments, saying such efforts “create distrust and discontentment among students, negatively affecting school climate.”
Assurances and requirements school safety funding
The department also issued a list of assurances for states in receipt of the funding, a template for state-submitted information about how the SEA will award and administer the program, as well as a state-by-state allocations table.
Among the assurances that SEAs accept upon drawing down their SCG funding are requirements to award at least 95 percent of the new funding to LEAs on a competitive basis, with no more than one percent to be used for state administration of the award and the remaining set-aside, if any, for state-level activities in support of ESEA Section 4108.
SEAs must also assure that LEAs will only use SCG funds for activities authorized by ESEA Section 4108. LEAs must also provide equitable services to private schools as required by ESEA Section 8501.
LEAs must adhere to supplement, not supplant requirements in ESEA Section 4110, and the SEA and LEA must track the SCG funds separately from their ESEA Title IV, Part A allocations.
LEAs will have until Sept. 30, 2026, to spend the funds awarded by SEAs.