— Congress is grappling with how to make schools safer after two mass shootings renewed calls for action.
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— The president of the American Federation of Teachers threatened to encourage her members to boycott Walmart during back-to-school season if the retailer’s political action committee doesn’t stop donating to gun-friendly lawmakers.
— Several Democratic presidential candidates have agreed to appear at a gun control rally on Saturday in Des Moines, which organizers hope will jumpstart a larger conversation about guns access in the primary.
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SCHOOL SAFETY (AGAIN) TAKES CENTER STAGE: As schools across America open for the school year, the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, have brought school safety back into the spotlight. While the rampages didn’t occur on school grounds, children were killed in Texas and an Associated Press report indicated the Dayton shooter once was suspended for compiling a “hit list” and a “rape list” — again raising questions about how schools and local authorities should respond to such incidents.
— The renewed focus comes less than two weeks after parents who lost children in last year’s Parkland, Fla., school shooting told a congressional panel that complacency in Washington and elsewhere could lead to more school shootings. They called for a more robust federal role in prodding schools, districts and states to make schools safer.
— It also comes amid a larger discussion over school discipline policies and tension over whether efforts to “harden” schools with drills and other steps have unnecessarily traumatized children.
— Here’s a rundown on where things stand and what to watch:
The Senate: HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asked him to explore bipartisan ways to bolster school safety and assist individuals with serious mental health problems.
— No word yet on how HELP will tackle the issue. But back home in Washington state, ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said she wants to see a focus on combating hatred and bigotry — and not just place the blame on mental health. She’s also joined the chorus of Democratic lawmakers calling on McConnell to hold a vote on a bill the House passed in February that would mandate federal criminal background checks on all gun sales, including private transactions.
The House: Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) recently announced that he and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY.) plan to file legislation modeled after a New Jersey law that would require silent panic alarms in all public schools to notify local authorities of an active shooter. The bill is called the “Alyssa’s Legacy Youth in Schools Safety Act” in honor of Alyssa Alhadeff, a former New Jersey resident who died in the Parkland shooting.
The Education Department: Spokesperson Liz Hill said the department’s focus is to ensure states and localities “have the resources and support needed to develop their own safety plans.” Hill pointed to several efforts by the department, including a $15 million grant program that promotes partnerships between colleges and school districts to train and expand the number of school mental health professionals.
The White House: President Donald Trump was met by protesters when he traveled to Dayton and El Paso on Wednesday. Before leaving the White House, he defended his rhetoric, saying it “brings people together.” He also reasserted his support for changes to background checks, while dismissing calls to restrict the sales of assault rifles. Read more from POLITICO.
2020 Democratic candidates: At least 10 contenders have agreed to attend a gun safety rally on Saturday in Des Moines. The event was organized by Everytown for Gun Safety Action fund, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action. “The shootings in El Paso and Dayton have rightly outraged Americans, and we are going to make sure that gun safety is front and center in this presidential election — something that is long overdue,” said former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder of Everytown for Gun Safety.
In the states: In Missouri, a school safety task force recently recommended that every school have armed protection and that school staff be trained in trauma-informed practices, St. Louis Public Radio reports. Meanwhile, in Florida, the state rolled out a database that district threat assessment teams can use to see students’ school record, despite concerns from privacy advocacy groups, according to EdScoop.
AFT CALLS ON WALMART TO ACT ON GUNS: The union’s leader Randi Weingarten told Walmart’s CEO that if the company’s political action committee doesn’t stop donating to gun-friendly lawmakers, then teachers and students “should reconsider doing their back-to-school shopping at your stores.”
— Weingarten called on Doug McMillon in a letter on Wednesday to stop selling guns until reforms are in place and to stop company PAC contributions to lawmakers who receive donations from the National Rifle Association. She asked McMillon to fund gun buybacks and to convene corporate CEOs and board chairs in the U.S. to discuss ways to make the country safer.
— “This much is clear: While we wait for our lawmakers to act, all of us must do our part to help build a future with fewer guns and safer communities,” she wrote. “That includes Walmart — a company with tremendous market leverage and clout.”
— McMillon, in a public letter to Walmart associates, said the company will be “thoughtful and deliberate” in its response to two recent shootings at its stores in Southaven, Miss., and El Paso. “We are a learning organization, and, as you can imagine, we will work to understand the many important issues that arise from El Paso and Southaven, as well as those that have been raised in the broader national discussion around gun violence,” he wrote.
KLOBUCHAR PUSHES EDUCATION IN PROPOSAL TARGETING RURAL AMERICA: 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar rolled out a sweeping agriculture and rural development plan on Wednesday that would expand resources for land-grant universities and bolster student loan relief programs for in-demand occupations like farmers. Read more from Pro’s Helena Bottemiller Evich.
— Former New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has been named to the Hunt-Kean Leadership Fellows Advisory Board at the Hunt Institute.
— Rachel Zaentz has been named vice president of communications at the Linked Learning Alliance. Zaentz is a former senior vice president of Widmeyer Communications.
— A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics suggests it’s feasible to collect and report high-quality financial data at the school level. The Every Student Succeeds Act requires that states and school districts add per-pupil expenditures to their annual report cards for school districts and schools. There’s also been growing interest in the equitable distribution of school funding within and across school districts. Read more form Nicole Gaudiano.
— Nearly a third of D.C. public school employees have expired background checks: WAMU.
— Colorado charter school led by former GOP congresswoman is first to apply for a waiver to new sex ed law: Colorado Times Recorder.
— March For Our Lives knows they got one big thing wrong. As they head into 2020, they’re fixing It: Buzzfeed.
— Non-medical vaccine exemptions more common at Utah charter schools than public schools, report finds: KSL.com.