Congress sent some rather clear messages with passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), and the importance of education is undoubtedly top of mind.
Based on the sheer volume of school safety allocations, protecting our nation’s students is a high priority with the Biden administration and a majority in Congress.
Although many governmental entities will wait for weeks to receive these new ARP funds, the money for school districts already has reached education agencies in all 50 states. Very soon, an abundance of contracting opportunities will be available on both public and charter school campuses.
Another clear message is that Congress wanted school districts to have funding for long-overdue technology upgrades. As funding becomes available for both school safety and enhanced technology, it is interesting to note that education leaders throughout the U.S. had been preparing to launch major projects linked to technology upgrades, cybersecurity, and safety enhancements.
Technology modernization, cybersecurity, and school safety are specifically designated as projects that qualify for funding. Public entities have been a prime target for cybercriminals for some time, and old technology makes breaches much easier for attackers. The average cost of even a small cyberbreach is about half a million dollars. More significant cyberbreaches result in multimillion-dollar damages and long periods of time when networks are unusable.
Broward County Public Schools in Florida, the nation’s sixth-largest K-12 district, was breached in April with a ransomware attack and payment of $40 million was requested. The district refused to pay the ransom and the hackers have now published more than 25,000 files.
With millions in new funding about to become available to school districts, many technology and safety related projects are being launched. A few examples of upcoming contracting opportunities follow.
Gov. Ned Lamont recently announced two state grant programs that will fund infrastructure security and upgrades to emergency communications systems at schools throughout the state. The grant program is available for funding requests from public and private K-12 schools, eligible child care centers, and preschool programs that have received threats. The state will rank applications and award funding based on a demonstrated need for security improvements.
Nine districts in Illinois were among 160 school districts along with some police departments across the country to receive COPS School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP) grants in 2020 to improve security at schools. The program makes $53 million available this year. Applications for funding up to $500,000 will be accepted through June 22 and may be used for various projects including safety equipment, technology, and enhanced security.
Voters in Edmond recently passed a $63.7 million bond package for school upgrades and improvements. Approximately $750,000 was allocated for projects to upgrade school security. Anticipated purchases include electronic security devices, door locks, photo ID badges, card reader systems, and video surveillance cameras. Other funding from the bond package is allocated for construction of a storm shelter.
Moore Public Schools, also in Oklahoma, recently passed a bond election that will provide $338.7 million for school upgrades. Student safety at three campuses will receive a large part of the funding, but the district also plans to make major technology investments related to cybersecurity.
Alabama’s State Superintendent of Education recently pledged $250,000 toward a safety plan for Selma High School. The Alabama Department of Education conducted a threat assessment of the campus after a recent shooting inside the building. This new funding will support a range of solutions, including cameras, door entry points, and new communication systems.
The McKenzie School District is anticipating that voters will approve a $15.2 million bond election on May 18. Projects outlined in the bond package include improvements to security systems. Specifically noted in the measure are needs for new access control gates, security cameras, alarm systems, and a secure entry.
A $7 million technology levy and $7 million bond issue for Edina Public Schools have been approved by voters. This new funding will support all aspects of technology including hardware and software, network and firewall infrastructure, additional bandwidth, security cameras, door locks and alarm systems, and online information platforms. Funding is allocated for expansion of some school facilities and upgrades to traffic control systems at elementary schools.
Baltimore County Public Schools, like so many other school districts in the state, has received funding for enhanced school safety. The new revenue will be used for safety monitoring systems, fire alarm systems, electronic security technology, and installation and maintenance of closed-caption surveillance systems.
School executives and board members will make many spending decisions over the next few months, and funding for school safety and technology upgrades will be at the top of many high priority lists throughout the country. By the time school bells ring in the fall, students and teachers in hundreds of school districts will have safer campuses and new technology. Many school administrators who oversee network security may sleep a little sounder with improved defenses against cyberbreaches.