Bilirakis Fights for Increased Federal Funds to Help Schools Hire More School Resource Officers
Washington, DC: Understanding that the experts doing the job each and every day are the ultimate source that should be guiding his efforts, Congressman Gus Bilirakis has been working closely with Tampa Bay educators and law enforcement officials in recent weeks to determine the best way he can help support their initiatives to improve school safety. “Funding critical programs to protect our children, such as the School Resource Program, will provide greater opportunity to prevent further tragedies by utilizing threat assessment teams. The more emphasis we place on identifying emerging threats and prevention, the safer our community will be,” said Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco. Tampa Bay area leaders have indicated that not every school in the 12th Congressional district has a full time School Resource Officer (SRO) on campus, and that increasing the number of SROs is the single most important thing that can be done to improve school safety. With this goal in mind, Congressman Bilirakis began advocating for additional federal funding of this critical resource. In reviewing federal programs, Congressman Bilirakis determined that the best way to help was to enhance an existing program through the U.S. Department of Justice, the COPS hiring program, which helps school districts fund SROs. He met with Congressional Leadership and advocated that the Omnibus spending bill contain increased funding for these programs. The federal funding bill which passed last week, did authorize $75 million for school safety grants within the Department of Justice. Upon its passage, Congressman Bilirakis sent a letter urging Attorney General Sessions to once again utilize his discretion to direct all of these funds to the COPS hiring program and furthermore, to prioritize the grant applications from school districts which serve more than 50,000 students as they face a unique challenge in providing enough law enforcement officers for so many campuses. Congressman Bilirakis’s work on this important issue is not finished. Congress is now working on the FY 2019 Appropriations process, and Bilirakis joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers seeking expansion of federal funding for SROs. “Student safety is the number one priority in Pasco County Schools, and the presence of a law enforcement officer in every school is the most important step toward fulfilling that priority. I appreciate the efforts of the Florida Legislature to enhance school safety, but we did not receive funding sufficient to do what we need to do. Pasco County Schools currently has 37 school resource officers (SROs) and needs 47 additional SROs in order to staff every school. Our total estimated cost to place an SRO in every school is $5,233,147, and we received a total allocation of $3,525,606, leaving a funding shortfall of $1,707,541. More funding is absolutely necessary, and I thank Congressman Bilirakis for everything he is doing to protect our students and staff,” said Pasco County School Superintendent Kurt Browning.
“I will not stop fighting for more federal funding until every school in my district has at least one SRO on its campus,” said Congressman Bilirakis. “This is about protecting our children and ensuring that they feel safe when they go to school to learn. I want every parent to have the confidence of knowing that a well-trained, seasoned professional is at the helm. In addition to being a vital component of achieving physical safety, I believe SROs add great value in terms ensuring safe schools by reducing bullying, encouraging positive behavior, promoting drug-free environments and building a bridge between the community and law enforcement, ” he added.