Gov. Walker releases $100M school safety plan, one he says offers ‘peace of mind for every school district’

MADISON -- A day after thousands of Wisconsin students walked out of classrooms to call for tougher gun laws, Gov. Scott Walker released a proposal that includes a $100 million grant program for school safety programs but no new gun restrictions.

Gov. Scott Walker

Walker called on lawmakers to pass the bills during a special session addressing school security. Legislative Republicans praised the plan but did not agree on how to pass it. Democrats criticized the proposal and said it wouldn't be enough to prevent future mass shootings.

"We wanted to add peace of mind for every school district in the state, for every parent, every student, every teacher," Walker said during a news conference in Gillett, about 40 minutes northwest of Green Bay.

The governor's plan would allow school districts to apply for grants to make building security improvements, provide training, or hire armed guards to patrol schools. It creates an Office of School Security within the state Department of Justice to coordinate with schools and law enforcement on safety plans and training.

The plan does not allow school districts to let teachers arm themselves, an idea that Attorney General Brad Schimel has promoted. Nevertheless, Schimel endorsed the proposal.

The plan now goes to lawmakers, though it faces an uncertain future.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos praised the proposal and said his chamber will take it up next week in a one-day special session. But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the Senate would pass its own legislation in regular session next week that would "closely align" with Walker's objectives.

The Assembly and Senate have to pass identical bills to get them to the governor's desk and must agree whether to do so in regular session or special session.

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards sounded the alarm about the differences.

"There is some serious politics being played between the two houses," the group wrote on its blog. "School safety and security must not be allowed to become a casualty."

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, other Milwaukee Democrats and gun control advocates said during a news conference Thursday afternoon at the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office that the proposal should also include universal background checks on gun sales.

"What's going on is you've got politicians who cower to the (National Rifle Association) who are saying, 'What can we put forward that the NRA won't oppose?'" Barrett said.

Marvell Reed, a sophomore at Barack Obama School on Milwaukee's north side, said the February shooting in Parkland, Florida left him worried about incidents at school.

"Milwaukee Public Schools have great security guards and a great security system in our schools, but I believe it can be safer," Reed said at the news conference.

Superintendent Darienne Driver said she appreciated Walker and state Superintendent Tony Evers "for leading a discussion on school safety."

Driver said she supports a proposal put forward by the Council of Great City Schools, a collection of metropolitan school districts. That proposal calls for universal background checks, resources for school safety and mental health, and opposes arming teachers.

"Appropriate funding to make sure our school communities are safe places for children is crucially important," Driver said in an email. "If we don't figure out how to come together and talk about the real issues that are affecting our children in our schools and communities, we don't stand a chance of preventing future tragedies."