As I travel around our district, it seems one issue dominates the minds of my constituents regardless of their age, gender or political affiliation: school safety.
I know I am not alone in my belief that it is more difficult to be a "kid" today than when I was growing up. Whether because of the internet and the proliferation of social media, the rigor of academics in pursuit of a college degree or simply having fewer and fewer strong parents and mentors, our children's path to adulthood has more speedbumps and potholes than it did just a few decades ago.
Like every American, I am disheartened and disgusted by the acts of violence that have taken the lives of so many innocent American children and teachers and forever changed the lives of so many others. Indeed, if you watch the news long enough, you might begin to doubt the values and character that have defined our nation ever since it began. I believe the dramatic increases in school violence around this country compel us to confront the ever-changing and complex enemies of school safety in America.
I feel strongly that any policy discussion of school safety requires a holistic approach that considers the numerous forms of school violence. While tragic shootings such as those at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School constitute the most heinous examples of violence, it is important to remember that bullying, physical abuse and gang violence represent a significant share of incidents of school violence every year.
While I will not claim to have all the answers on preventing school shootings and violence, I believe any solution begins with policymakers working cooperatively with parents, educators and administrators, and students to identify pragmatic approaches that reduce the incidence of bullying and abuse that may drive some students to violence. Furthermore, it is imperative that we provide both students and parents with access to additional forms of mental health resources to assist in identifying and mitigating mental illnesses. In addition, I believe parents and communities must recommit themselves to responsible gun ownership. Our children must be raised to respect firearms and the privilege that is gun ownership, while adults must dedicate themselves to ensuring that firearms are secured and inaccessible to children. Finally, we must reevaluate the existing security infrastructure in place at schools across our country. Every student and every school deserves to be protected by the most effective security measures available.
Since 2018, the General Assembly has taken significant action to prevent incidences of violence in Georgia schools. Last year, we dedicated $16 million for a first round of school security grants. This year, thanks to the leadership of Gov. Brian Kemp, Georgia will provide nearly $70 million to public schools across Georgia for school security improvements. This funding amounts to a $30,000 grant for every public school in our state. In addition, Republicans in the General Assembly are sensitive to the role mental health plays in school safety and, as a result, added $8.4 million to expand the Georgia Apex Program, which provides support counselors in high schools for students suffering from mental health issues. The program currently serves more than 17,000 students in 418 schools.
While our state's budget demonstrates our wholehearted commitment to the safety of our children, Republicans also led this year in passing Senate Bill 15, a measure which requires public schools to conduct regular site threat assessments, streamlines communication between schools and relevant state intelligence agencies, and promotes the use of an anonymous "app" that would allow the reporting of suspicious activity.
As we work hard in the days ahead to strengthen Georgia families and businesses, please do not hesitate to call (404-656-5052), e-mail (Jon.Burns@House.Ga.Gov) or engage on Facebook with your feedback.
It is an honor to represent you in the General Assembly, and I look forward to seeing you soon.
Rep. Jon Burns
Georgia General Assembly