By BAYLOR SPEARS | The Wisconsin Examiner
The Wisconsin Department of Justice has secured additional funding for the Office of School Safety (OSS) for the 2023-24 school year after Republican lawmakers decided not to increase the office’s funding in the state budget.
The OSS was facing the potential of dramatic cuts, after Republican lawmakers rejected calls to provide adequate funds in the 2023-25 state budget. However, the DOJ has reallocated $1,340,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (APRA) funds for the purpose of extending the operations of OSS, including its 24/7 hotline, critical incident response teams and threat assessment consultation.
“We’re committed to doing everything we can to keep our kids safe by preventing tragedy, and that’s exactly what these funds will help us continue to do,” Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a statement.
The office is currently supported by $1.8 million in ARPA funds, but that money is set to run out in December of 2023. Originally created in a 2018 law signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the office was initially funded by more than $2 million in federal grant money.
The Wisconsin DOJ requested $2.2 million in state funds for the office in the biennial budget to maintain 16 school safety positions, including about 12 positions currently supported by federal money.
The budget passed by Republican lawmakers and signed by Gov. Tony Evers provided no increase in state funds for the office, leaving the department with just over $550,000 in state money and 3.8 positions. Republican leaders said they didn’t include additional funds because they were opposed to providing state money to initiatives that had been funded by one-time federal money.
The OSS works to promote safe school environments by providing K-12 schools with resources to improve security measures and train staff on handling traumatic events. Some of those resources include training related to crisis prevention and response, grants for safety enhancements, threat assessment training and mental health training and the Speak Up, Speak Out tipline — a place where students can anonymously report safety concerns.
The reallocated money was originally awarded for the purpose of outsourcing testing of certain types of evidence at the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratories, according to the statement. The agency couldn’t find vendors to test evidence, meaning the money wouldn’t be spent before the deadline for using ARPA funds.
Since the one-time money will fund the office temporarily, Kaul renewed his call for lawmakers to provide more state funding to the office.
“It remains essential, however, for the state legislature to take action in the current legislative session,” Kaul said. “We must not allow critical Office of School Safety programs to be gutted at the end of 2024.”
Wisconsin was left with a projected $4 billion budget surplus and about $1.8 billion in the state’s rainy day fund after Evers vetoed Republican proposed tax cuts. Evers has called on lawmakers to return in the fall to “finish” their work on the state budget, though his proposal has focused on workforce development initiatives, including child care. Republican lawmakers have dismissed Evers’ call to spend money in additional areas, saying they will instead work to try to pass more tax cuts.
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