MADISON — Attorney General Brad Schimel’s plan for spending $45 million in school safety grants ran into opposition Tuesday from Democrats, including state schools Superintendent Tony Evers, who blamed partisan politics for the Republican’s approach.
Evers, one of eight Democratic candidates for governor, said the money could more effectively be handed out through an existing program at the Department of Public Instruction, which he oversees. And Schimel’s Democratic challenger, Josh Kaul, said Schimel should be focused on gun control measures, like universal background checks.
”It’s about politics,” Evers said. “Brad Schimel can now fly around the state and talk about giving money here and there.”
Schimel’s spokesman, Johnny Koremenos, said Evers’ executive staff was consulted before the plan was put together.
“It is therefore a complete surprise to us that Mr. Evers has made such partisan comments attacking Attorney General Schimel personally, and apparently without consultation from his own executive staff,” Koremenos said.
The state Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker earlier this year approved $100 million in grants for school safety after a gunman killed 17 people Feb. 14 at a high school in Parkland, Fla. Walker signed the bill two days after people in Wisconsin and across the country marched to demand more gun control, but he said that was the wrong focus.
Instead, the grant program administered by a new Office of School Safety created within Schimel’s Department of Justice has largely been centered on upgrading physical security measures such as locks, surveillance cameras and alarms.
Nearly all public schools to get aid
Nearly all the state’s public schools, and about 40 percent of private schools, are expected to get some of the $56 million being awarded under the program’s first round.
Schimel on Tuesday announced that a second round of about $45 million in grants will focus on advanced training for teachers on mental health; the creation of local teams of educators, counselors and law enforcement to lead teams that assess threats and identify students in need of support; and additional physical security upgrades.
To qualify, schools must send 10 percent of their full-time teachers and counselors to a DOJ-approved adolescent mental health training by Aug. 31, 2020. Grants can be used to pay for expenses related to that. Schools must also establish teams in every middle and high school to identify and address threats posed by students.
Grants in the second round, which will be awarded starting in October just before the elections, will range from $10,000 to $2.5 million.
Earlier this month, Evers unsuccessfully asked Schimel and the Legislature’s budget-writing committee to use the rest of the grant money to expand mental health services in schools. Evers on Monday unveiled a $60 million proposal to pay for new mental health spending in schools. That will be a part of the DPI’s budget request next year.
“We need something that’s sustainable,” said Ron Martin, an Eau Claire middle school teacher and president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, speaking in support of Evers’ plan. “We need something where schools can invest and create the real change that’s needed for mental health.”
He spoke during a conference call Tuesday organized by the Wisconsin Democratic Party to criticize a visit to Wisconsin by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. They joined with Wisconsin first lady Tonette Walker to discuss school safety efforts and tour Adams-Friendship Middle School to see how it addresses the issue.
Neither Walker nor Evers attended the event. Walker was in Aspen, Colo., for a Republican Governors Association event, his campaign said. Evers said he was afraid his appearance at the event could politicize it. and he didn’t want to take away from recognition for the middle school’s efforts combating mental health and behavior issues.