School safety has been a hot issue after highly publicized shootings – including one in Indiana – this year. But so far, only a few school corporations have sought out loans through a new state program to fund safety improvements.
School corporations can apply for loans of up to $500,000 out of the state’s Common School Fund (CSF), after lawmakers approved legislation creating a safety loan program in May and set aside $35 million for it. State Department of Homeland Security’s David Hosick says at this point only three districts have applied.
“There’s been a lot of discussion, and a lot of questions that have come into our office about the Common School Fund,” he says. “People are definitely learning more about it and about the capabilities of what that funding can cover.”
Several key questions remain if schools have policies in place to arm certain staff or teachers, including if government money can help them buy guns. State law for CSF money doesn’t specify if the loans can be used to buy guns for schools – it just says the money can be used for “equipment.”
One school that will provide certain trained staff access to guns at school this year has requested a loan for the full $500,000. Jay County Superintendent Jeremey Gulley has said he hopes the money could go toward supporting the implementation of policies that allow staff access to guns.
But Hosick says questions surrounding the use of CSF money have likely contributed to the slow start of interested schools. Plus, he says they can pursue other, cheaper options with the state, like secured school safety grants.
“You know this is a loan, it’s a very low-interest loan, but it is a loan that has to be paid back,” he says. “Whereas the grant program is just that: it’s a grant program that as long as they match the funds that they’re given, they get to complete that project.”
Lawmakers also added $5 million to the state’s matching grant program in May, and grant awards from the state exceeded $14 million for fiscal year 2019. That’s more than double the amount awarded in 2017.
Schools have to receive secured school safety grant funding before they can apply for a CSF loan. Only one school has gone through the entire loan application process and received approval from the Indiana Board of Education earlier this month.