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Indiana school safety grant program has funding cut by more than half in new state budget

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INDIANAPOLIS — A state grant program aimed at helping Indiana school districts hire police officers and buy safety equipment has less than half the amount of money to give out than when it was started two years ago.

The new two-year state budget that took effect in July dedicates $7 million toward the grant program, which is a reduction of about two-thirds from the $20 million it was given in the wake of the deadly 2012 shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school, The Journal Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1hWvJiT ).

That spending cut received little public attention during budget talks during this year's legislative session, in contrast to several prominent committee hearings and a bill signing ceremony by Republican Gov. Mike Pence as the program was approved in 2013.

The reduction likely means less money for safety equipment — from surveillance cameras and fortified doors to radios and fencing. And it could leave some schools looking for ways to continue paying police working as school resource officers.

"It certainly will be more competitive," said John Erickson, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the grant program. "The current plan is to review grants in exactly the same way as in the past — equal and fair. If there are more applications than funding, the board will have to make determinations at that time."

Brian Bailey, Pence's state budget director, said after two years of the program, he and his staff believed the grants have covered one-time equipment needs and the focus going forward will be for the school resource officers.

The program provides matching grants of $35,000 to $50,000 a year depending on enrollment to public schools.

In late 2013, the first round of grants totaling $9.1 million was released. In mid-2014, the second round of grants was awarded totaling $9.2 million. Of that, about $5 million went to equipment and $4 million to school resource officers.

The remainder of the program's $10 million annual budget went to administrative expenses and some was unspent, leaving an existing balance in the fund of $2 million.

The East Allen County Schools near Fort Wayne used part of its first state grant on security cameras for its five high schools but a majority of the money has funded a school resource officer for those schools, said Jeff Studebaker, the district's safety manager. Officials hope to use district money to add two officers next year.

"It's important for us to continue it," Studebaker said. "We see enough advantage in it that we want to keep it. Security is important, but I'm not sure what will happen."

House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said the State Budget Agency told him there was no longer a need for equipment purchases and that proposed $3.5 million a year for the grants would cover continuing the officers in place.

"It is not our intention for anyone to lose their grant for school resource officers," Brown said.


Information from: The Journal Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net

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