The Office of School Safety (OSS) within the Wisconsin Department of Justice, a vital statewide resource dedicated to maintaining the safety of schools, faces potential budget cuts that could impact its operations and effectiveness. Wisconsin’s Attorney General, Josh Kaul, had requested $2.2 million and 16 full-time positions to support the OSS, an initiative that started in 2018 following the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The requested funds comprise only 0.1% of the proposed budget. With the funds allocated to the OSS, it would only provide for 3.8 positions within the office. Currently, it takes 9 employees just to run the 24/7 tip line for the OSS.
The OSS received additional funds during the COVID-19 pandemic, which were continuously allocated to the office over the past few years. However, the Joint Committee on Finance decided not to include any additional funding for the DOJ in its proposed budget. This decision leaves the OSS at risk, with federal funds expected to run out by December.
The OSS provides essential services to schools across the state, including non-violent crisis intervention, mental health assistance, distribution of information to schools on drills and safety, common sense gun safety, and threat assessments and a 24/7 tip line, with an overall focus on providing for a healthy school environment throughout Wisconsin schools. This tip line, known as the “Speak Up Speak Out” line, allows for confidential reporting of issues such as bullying, mental health, and safety threats. Since its inception in 2020, the line has received 7,400 tips, primarily related to bullying and suicide threats, of which 137 were related to threats against schools.
Despite the critical role the OSS plays in school safety, the Joint Finance Committee’s decision means the OSS may not be able to continue operating as it has since its creation in 2018. Without the OSS in place as it currently exists, schools throughout Wisconsin will lack uniform best practices requiring individual schools to seek grants to replace the missing resources and to develop and solve the problems of school safety individually. The potential fallout from this decision is not lost on those directly affected. “I think keeping our students safe, providing them with the resources when they need them, it really is what our money is supposed to be used for,” said James Blodgett, Director of Safety and Security at Middleton Cross-Plains Area School District.[i]
Critics argue that the state’s current budget surplus could be used to bolster the OSS. “At a time when we have a historic budget surplus, dismantling the Office of School Safety and discontinuing services that keep our kids safe is simply inexplicable,” Kaul stated, expressing his disappointment with the Committee’s decision.[ii]
Joint Committee on Finance co-chair Rep. Mark Born noted that the proposed budget does include an additional $2.5 million for schools to carry out criminal incident mapping, providing law enforcement with a school blueprint when responding to a safety incident.
The future of the OSS now hangs in the balance. As the debate continues, the focus remains on ensuring the safety of Wisconsin’s students – a task that requires both adequate funding and a shared commitment from all stakeholders.
[i] NBC 15 WMTV – published on June 9, 2023 at 645PM.
[ii] This quote came from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and was published on June 9, 2023 at 603AM.
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