U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said on the Senate floor that legislation he is introducing will help Tennessee use “every federal dollar available to them to keep their schools safe from violence and have the mental health services they need.” (Screenshot: Staff)

After 17 died in the Parkland, Florida school mass shooting, Tennessee officials are looking at ways to prevent something similar here.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, is introducing legislation aimed at helping Tennessee and other states use federal money to keep schools safe and fund mental health services.

Wednesday evening, Alexander’s office announced that 13 senators, including Tennessee’s Bob Corker, had joined in to sponsor the legislation.

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The legislation would allow 100,000 public schools to use federal funds to make schools safer.

In a separate, but similar move Gov. Bill Haslam recently announced the formation of a working group that will review school safety in Tennessee and provide recommendations to enhance the security of school children.

In related news, Hamilton County school officials recently announced they will be installing a new visitor monitoring system in an effort to increase security.

Alexander’s efforts
As Education and health committee Senate Chairman Alexander said that the federal government can and should help state and local entities create safer schools.

He said the legislation he’s proposed will allow the federal government to help in four ways.

—It would allow schools to use Title II funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to hire more counselors.

—The legislation would make it clear that officials can use federal funding already available through Title II and Title IV under the Every Student Succeeds Act to help train school counselors and improve school safety infrastructure, such as installing new alarm systems.

—The bill would also renew and update the law to expand a program that helps train education personnel and ensures that children have the services they need after a violent incident.

—Lastly, the legislation would create an interagency task force whose members would make recommendations on best practices, policies and procedures to improve school safety.

“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,” Alexander said on the Senate floor.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee said about the efforts:

We should look closely at everything that can be done to keep our schools and communities safe. This legislation will ensure states and local school boards have the flexibility they need to use the money they receive from the federal government in ways they deem most appropriate. I thank Senator Alexander for his leadership and am glad to join him in this effort. I also am a proud cosponsor of the Fix NICS Act and agree with President Trump that we should ban bump stocks. The American people are demanding solutions, and while these are only first steps, it is my hope that Congress will soon reach agreement on several of these items and take action to protect our children.

Haslam’s plan
This week, Haslam announced he’s formed a working group of leaders from the state’s executive branch and the General Assembly, as well as safety, education and mental health officials, to immediately start reviewing school safety in Tennessee and provide recommendations about how to improve it.

Tennessee schools already have safety plans in place, and the governor’s School Safety Working Group will review all the policies and implementations of safety procedures.

Haslam said in a prepared statement:

All children in Tennessee deserve to learn in a safe and secure environment and I am asking this working group to move quickly in making practical recommendations that we can implement in the coming weeks and months to help increase the safety of our children. The review will be wide-ranging but include specific items, such as entry to and exit from schools, training and availability of school resource officers, and in-school mental health resources for students.

Haslam expects to have the first recommendations from the working group before the end of the legislative session.

The group will be chaired by Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner David Purkey and includes these additional members.

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