October 17, 2006
Jefferson City, Mo. — Deep cuts in funding for programs such as alternative schools and other recent policy changes have rolled back gains made toward student safety in Missouri, Attorney General Jay Nixon says. Nixon made the statements in a letter sent this week to more than 1,000 public education leaders across the state.
Nixon said recent reports of violence and near violence in elementary and secondary schools in Missouri and across the country mean it is time for educators and law enforcement to re-double school safety efforts and “resist gimmicky approaches that threaten the safety of students and teachers alike.”
Efforts such as the 1995 overhaul of the state's juvenile justice code; the 1996 Safe Schools Act which required mandatory reporting of school safety violations to law enforcement and helped fund alternative schools; and a 2000 law making it a crime to possess a gun on school premises were important steps in the past decade to protect Missourians in the classroom, Nixon said. He noted that all these laws passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support in the General Assembly, and said he was proud to be part of the effort to push for such changes during his 14 years as Missouri's Attorney General.
“But alternative schools and aggressive prevention programs — which were once the hope of the future — are now becoming abandoned promises of the past,” Nixon wrote. “Funding for alternative schools under the Safe Schools Act has been slashed by nearly 70 percent since FY2003, with the result that some alternative schools and prevention programs have had to be discontinued altogether.
“Alternative schools now serve 23 percent fewer students than they did at their high-water mark during the 2002-03 school year,” Nixon continued. “In the past, I have called for lengthening the start-up funding available for alternative schools and to increase the overall funding for alternative schools and prevention programs. I am renewing that call now, and ask that you join me.”
“The thoughtful, deliberate and collaborative efforts of the past are more and more being replaced by policies that are being put together with inadequate study or inadequate funding,” Nixon wrote. “Support for local control of schools and education has been eroded by state officials with a ‘top-down’ management style that would even mandate what percent of district funds must be spent where, and how.”
Nixon also said he was concerned by comments last week by the Governor that teachers carrying guns in the classrooms was an “interesting idea, worthy of discussion.”
“Though it may be obvious to you that having more guns in schools makes schools more dangerous, that self-evident truth is not obvious to those who neither work in education nor law enforcement, nor take the time to listen to those who do,” Nixon wrote. “Such an idea is not ‘interesting,’ it has been ‘studied,’ and it cannot be allowed to become law.”
Nixon quoted former state Sen. Harold Caskey, recipient of the National Rifle Association's Defender of Justice Award: “In 2000, the Missouri legislature passed a law designed to prohibit guns in schools and on school property, and we as a state need to stand by that law. This is no time to back down.”
“We have a track record on school safety in Missouri on which we can and must build,” Nixon concluded. “What is needed now is a prudent and sustained effort to expand legal tools when necessary, expand legal protections for teachers and administrators where needed, and expand funding for alternative schools and prevention training that have been shown to be effective.”