On Jan. 17, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan released his budget for the coming year, which includes $2 million in security grant funding for private schools and daycares. Schools deemed “at risk of hate crimes or attacks because of their ideology, beliefs, or mission” could apply for grants to pay for building security guards, building upgrades, and staff training. If funding is approved by the legislature, then this would be the first Maryland state program to provide operating funds for private schools.
The impetus for the “Security Upgrades for Facilities at Risk of Hate Crimes or Attacks” law came last year. At the beginning of 2017, Jewish institutions across the country — including several schools and preschools in the DC area — were targeted by several waves of bomb threats. Authorities ultimately learned that a potentially mentally ill teenager in Israel was responsible for most of the threats. However, the bomb threats awakened state legislatures across the country to the security needs of religious schools and their students.
The Teach Advocacy Network (a project of the Orthodox Union) seized this opportunity and secured additional security funding for private schools in New York, Florida, and California. Sam Melamed, co-chair of the Teach Advocacy Network’s Maryland division (Teach MD), didn’t want Maryland schools to be left behind.
So, in early 2017, Teach MD began working with state legislators to craft a security law, fully expecting it to be a multi-year project. On March 13, 2017, Maryland State Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk introduced legislation to create a security grant program for at-risk private schools and daycares.
According to Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) Executive Director Ronald Halber, we can thank State Sen. Roger Manno for getting the bill passed just one month after it was introduced. Manno — who is running for Congress in 2018 — championed the security grant program and urged his colleagues to support it. His hard work paid off: On March 31, the State Senate voted 44-1 to pass the bill, and on April 10, the House of Delegates voted 141-0 to pass.
But creating the grant program was just the first step. It still needed to be funded, and in Maryland, only the governor may propose new spending. Halber told Kol HaBirah that after the legislative session ended, the JCRC asked the governor to allocate at least $2 million for the security grant program.
Jewish groups were pleased when the governor released his budget last month and it contained the requested funding. “This is a big deal,” Halber told Kol HaBirah, “because it’s the first time Jewish institutions in Maryland have a place to apply for operating dollars.” Halber said that four Maryland Jewish schools he surveyed spend a combined $800,000 per year on security guards.
So, what’s next? First the legislature must approve Hogan’s funding request. Since the legislature voted overwhelmingly to create the security grant program last year, it seems likely they will approve the full $2 million. However, Melamed said not to take this for granted. Teachers’ unions and other opponents of public funding for private schools may mobilize against the security grant program.
If the $2 million is approved, then the Maryland Center for School Safety — an independent unit of the state government — must write regulations detailing exactly how the grant program will work: application instructions, deadlines, scoring, and award amounts. Halber said he wants the grants be at least $50,000 each — nearly enough to hire a full-time security guard.
Melamed also said that Teach MD will continue lobbying to increase funding for the program in future years. “But we are very grateful for the governor including $2 million in his budget,” he added.
By Gabe Aaronson