A bill that would provide funding for a school resource officer at each Delaware public school was debated Wednesday.

School officers, construction needs focus of House Committee

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

A bill that would provide funding for a school resource officer at each Delaware public school was debated Wednesday.

A bill that would provide funding for a school resource officer at each Delaware public school was debated Wednesday.

Bills dealing with school construction, junior ROTC, Department of Education background checks and school resource officers were sent to the House ready list Wednesday by the Education Committee.

House Bill 169, sponsored by Rep. Kim Williams, D-Marshallton and committee chair, requires the secretary of education – currently Mark Holodick – to publish and deliver a report to the General Assembly detailing requests for certificates of necessity that are not included in the proposed capital budget.

Certificates of necessity are funding requests by districts, usually for capital projects and deferred maintenance that districts lack the local funds to complete. 

Sometimes, the certificate of necessity includes a smaller percentage of local share that must be voted by district residents through a referendum. Certificates include reasons why they need the money and must be approved by the state. 

The report must include reasons for any rejection and a ranking of the rejected projects by need. It also would include a breakdown of the current and previous five years of state spending via certificate of necessities, as well as priority level (1, 2 or 3) of all approved and rejected applications.

“This legislation will provide an opportunity for more transparency for the members of the Bond Committee along with the members of the General Assembly,” Williams said. “With a billion dollars in deferred maintenance across school districts, this legislation will allow for more information about the current status of buildings throughout our state.”

John Marinucci, executive director of the Delaware School Boards Association, said he supports the bill and appreciates the legislature’s effort to ensure transparency with funding. 

House Bill 163, also sponsored by Williams, authorizes the Department of Education to issue an initial or continuing license to a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) Instructor who has been certified by the United States Department of Defense.

Williams said this would help the state get more JROTC instructors. 

JROTC is a federal program that prepares high school students for leadership roles while making them aware of their rights, responsibilities and privileges as American citizens. Many go on to join the National Guard or to college on a ROTC scholarship that includes a stint in the military after graduation.

House Bill 181, also sponsored by Williams, allows the State Bureau of Identification to release arrest notifications to the Department of Education for its employees and contractors. The act also clarifies changes to the processing of background checks when the Department of Education is the employer.

Rep. Eric Morrison, D-Glasgow pointed out that all other government agencies already have this ability to acquire arrest notifications for its employees. 

The last bill, which garnered the most discussion, was House Bill 167, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Shupe, R-Milford. Shupe is the chief executive officer of Delaware LIVE News.

The bill would provide funding for all schools to hire a constable and/or school resource officer. 

RELATED: Constables: What are they; why so many are being hired

Currently, schools locally fund these positions 100%. Under the bill, the state would fund 70% for the costs of hiring. 

Shupe and supporters of the bill pointed to the strong relationships that are built between school resource officers and the student body, and how they can serve as mentors, positive influencers or even just listeners. 

Morrison and those opposed to the bill cited data, which was questioned by supporters, that suggested teachers tell resource officers to make arrests, as well as officers arresting students for miscellaneous reasons like “trying to calm a student down.”

The main study cited was a 2013 one done by Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, and Shupe pointed out there were barely any school resource officers in Delaware schools then. 

Morrison said the study included 31 school resource officers in Delaware. 

Williams said she was “concerned” about the fact that teachers can simply tell an officer to arrest a student at their leisure and questioned the legality of such action.

Morrision said the study indicated that resource officers do not actually prevent or stop school shootings.

Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha, D-Wilmington, disagreed, and said that school resource officers in his district have previously confiscated guns from students that were brought to school, which is effectively preventing a potential emergency. 

There were concerns brought up with the funding, with a couple members of the committee citing the “tight budget” of the state.

Per the fiscal note, the total state funding for fiscal year 2024 would be just shy of $69 million. 

Williams suggested the bill get some additional work in the fall to iron out funding concerns.

Even so, the bill was released with four yes votes and six on its merits.

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