Trump puts public school safety and trauma counseling funding on the chopping block

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says school safety is a priority, but budget proposals tell a different story.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called on Congress to hold hearings on school safety after the February 14, 2018, mass shooting at a high school in Florida. CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called on Congress to hold hearings on school safety after the February 14, 2018, mass shooting at a high school in Florida. CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

With school mass shootings on the rise across the country, the Trump administration is proposing major funding cuts for violence prevention and recovery assistance programs at public schools.

Funds targeted for reduction or elimination in President Donald Trump’s FY’19 budget request, which was released two days before the tragedy at a high school in Parkland, Florida, have helped pay for counselors in schools and violence prevention programs. In fact, the funding levels sought by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would “completely abdicate responsibility” for school safety, violence prevention, and recovery, according to a report released Friday by the Center for American Progress (CAP).

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Immediately after Wednesday’s mass shooting, DeVos called on Congress to hold hearings on school safety but did not seek to mobilize the Department of Education’s resources to support students, families, and educators affected by the violence, the CAP report said. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at CAP.)

In the meantime, the Broward County (FL) Public Schools system is providing counseling for anyone who needs support in the wake of the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

In his budget request, Trump is seeking to cut $25 million, or 36 percent, from the Education Department’s funding for school safety activities. The department has called for the complete elimination of the Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) and Project Prevent Grant programs.

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Following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Project SERV provided more than $6.4 million over three years to Newtown, Connecticut, for immediate recovery, trauma counseling, therapy, and other programs, according to the CAP report. Project Prevent provides students with counseling and social and emotional supports to help cope with trauma, anxiety, and the other effects of violence.

“Incredibly, Trump and DeVos are calling to eliminate this funding that could specifically help the Parkland community heal from the tragedy,” Chelsea Parsons, vice president of gun violence prevention at CAP, and Scott Sargrad, managing director of K-12 education policy at the center, wrote in the report.

For both FY’18 and FY’19, Trump and DeVos also proposed eliminating a separate $400 million program that addresses student safety and health. Under the program, school districts must use at least 20 percent of their funding from this program for efforts such as violence prevention programs, mental health services, and training for crisis management and conflict resolution.

As with every mass shooting, the tragedy in Florida is also generating calls for lawmakers to restrict or ban the sale of military-style assault weapons such as the AR-15 that was used by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who is suspected of killing 17 people and injuring 15 others at the high school. In an address to the nation on Thursday, Trump made no mention of gun control but said he is committed to “tackling the difficult issue of mental health” during a conference with governors later this month.