An analysis of Colorado’s spending on school safety

An analysis of Colorado’s spending on school safety

DENVER — A foundation with a budget of $700,000 appears to be managing school safety protocols better than a state government that has spent more than $100 million over three years.

The Colorado legislature’s School Safety Committee heard a presentation Friday from the I Love U Guys foundation. The group, led by John-Michael Keyes, was started after his daughter, Emily, was shot and killed at Platte Canyon High School in 2006.

“Today, in Colorado, we’ve got 1,500 of the 1,800 in change schools, using this program,” said Keyes, referencing his foundation’s standard response protocol. “Our latest estimate is now 30,000 schools, districts and agencies are using our programs across the U.S. and Canada.”

Keyes presented for the committee before the lawmakers voted on bills to start drafting for next legislative session.

Earlier this week, a state audit of school safety programs in Colorado found that it’s hard to measure the results of more than $100 million in funding from 2018 to 2020 on:

  • Tip lines
  • Training
  • School building improvements
  • Emergency preparedness and response
  • Behavioral initiatives to improve school climate

“If we are going to spend another dollar on school safety, we are going to have to be able to evaluate the outcomes,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Janet (D-Commerce City), chair of the school safety committee. “We have to be able to account for the money we’re spending, and we need to know that the money we’re spending is saving lives.”

The interim legislative committee came up with a dozen bills to start drafting for consideration next year.

They include:

  • A coordinating body to improve communication between agencies working on school safety
  • Safe2Tell improvements
  • Mental health first aid for educators
  • Mental & behavioral health days as excused absences for students.
  • Resolution recognizing the I Love U Guys Foundation for safety in schools.

“The audit report said, it said we have overlaps where we got public health and education doing the same thing. That’s not efficient,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen (R-Monument). “I Love U Guys Foundation is a homerun. It comes out of great pain and loss of a daughter. And it has generated enormous productivity. It’s doing big things on a $700,000 budget annually. They are having a greater impact on this issue, perhaps, than anything else.”

One of the topics that came up multiple times during the past committee hearings were about school safety drills, including elementary-aged students.

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“I just think that’s highly inappropriate to ask a third-grader to fight someone that has an AR-15 or any kind of a weapon. I believe that we need drills, but the model that’s currently in place, to run, hide and fight, especially after the STEM shooting — we had a young man that tried to fight. He lost his life, so I’m not quite sure that’s the message that we need to be telling our kids, that when someone has a gun, you fight,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora).

“I believe that it is absolutely possible to have an ill-conceived exercise create trauma,” said Keyes. “When you do a fire drill, do you light the trash cans on fire in the hallway to do the drill? No. What we’re doing is creating the muscle memory.”

Keyes would like to see the committee consider the approach that the state of Indiana has utilized, with a school safety specialist in each school district.

There had been conversation in the committee about guns and safe storage of guns at home. The committee did not advance any draft legislation dealing with weapons, but it’s a topic that could be considered by any lawmaker when the session starts in January.

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