Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Speech: Sen. Alexander to Introduce the School Safety and Mental Health Services Improvement Act

Posted on March 6, 2018

School Safety & Mental Health Services Improvement Act

Floor Speech

Mr. President, later this week, Senators Blunt, Cassidy, Collins, Roberts, and Young will join me in introducing the School Safety and Mental Health Services Improvement Act.

Three weeks ago, 14 high school students, a teacher, a coach and an athletic director were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

As the authorities try to get to the bottom of exactly what happened in this shooting, many of us in local, state and the federal government have been looking at what can be done to help keep students safe at school.

We can’t stand still and do nothing while our children are being killed.

I am the Chairman of the Senate education and health committee and sponsor with Senator Murray of the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015—which reauthorized the law overseeing kindergarten, elementary and secondary education—and I also sponsored with Senator Murray the 21st Century Cures Act of 2016, which made the first major mental health reforms in a decade—focusing the federal government’s efforts on early intervention.

The bill I am introducing this week with several of my colleagues will help states use every federal dollar available to them to keep their schools safe from violence and have the mental health services they need.

This is complementary to a bill Senator Hatch introduced last week that addresses programs over in the Judiciary Committee to improve school safety and stop school violence.

There are 100,000 public schools in the United States and most of the responsibility for making them safer for children lies with the state and local governments and families and communities that provide 90 percent of schools’ funding.

But the federal government can and should help create an environment so that communities, school boards and states can create safer schools. 

Under this bill, the federal government can help in the following four ways:

One, allow schools to use Title II funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to hire more counselors.

About a fifth of all children age 9-17 have “a diagnosable mental or addictive disorder that causes at least minimal impairment.”

In the 2014-2015 school year, there was a counselor-to-student ratio of 482:1, while the American School Counselor Association recommends a counselor-to-student ratio of 250:1.

This bill would help schools make up that difference.

Two, make it clear that schools can use federal funding they are already receiving through Title II and Title IV under the Every Student Succeeds Act to improve the professional development of school counselors, and to improve the school safety infrastructure, including installing new alarm systems, improving entrances and exits of school, installing security cameras, and other infrastructure upgrades

Three, our bill renews and updates the law to expand a successful program that helped train education personnel and ensure children have the services they need after a violent incident.

This program was piloted after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut and has shown to be effective.

And fourth, create an interagency task force led by the Secretaries of Education, WITH THE DEPARTMENTS OF Health and Human Services, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, and Defense to make recommendations—not mandates, recommendations—on best practices, policies, and procedures to improve schools safety and school safety infrastructure.

This bill would encourage and reinforce for Tennessee, and all of our states, that federal dollars may be used to:

Hire more counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals at schools;

Build safety infrastructure – such as securing doors, automatic locks, and smart entrances – to prevent intruders; and

Developmental health programs to identify children who might be dangerous to other children.

While most of the responsibility for improving the safety of our schools and the environment or climate of our schools rests with local and state officials, the federal government has a role to play.

And in conclusion, Mr. President, in addition to the policies in this bill that I described,

I support President Trump’s directive to the Department of Justice to craft regulations to ban so-called “bump stocks,” which have the effect of making a semi-automatic firearm function more like an automatic.

I, along with 49 other senators, have cosponsored bipartisan legislation to have more effective background checks. This legislation sponsored by Sen. Murphy and Sen. Cornyn, would ensure that federal agencies and states get information about individuals who should be prohibited from buying a gun into the national background check system.

I hope my colleagues will cosponsor and support our legislation to help states use every resource available to them to keep their schools safer from violence and have the mental health services they need.