Mar 24, 2023 - News

Arkansas schools await money as state passes grim Jonesboro milestone

Illustration of a school desk surrounded by caution tape

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Friday marks the 25th anniversary of Arkansas' deadliest school shooting. Four students and a teacher were killed at West Side Middle School in Jonesboro; 10 other students were injured.

Zoom out: More than 600 shootings in U.S. schools have resulted in 375 deaths since the tragedy in Jonesboro, according to an Axios analysis of data from Ballotpedia and Education Week. That's an average of two events and 1.25 deaths per month — including summers.

  • Since 1990, seven people have died and 17 others were injured in school shootings in Arkansas.

The big picture: Jonesboro was the deadliest school shooting nationwide in the '90s — until the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado — ushering in a haunting era of school violence.

Context: Following last May's mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed a school safety commission to revise the state's strategy for public school security. Later, he called for funds to be set aside so schools could afford to install some of the commission's recommendations — like electronic entry systems and locks for classroom doors.

  • The Arkansas Legislative Committee in January approved the money to be transferred to the Department of Education.
  • A Feb. 1 memo from Jacob Oliva, secretary of the Department of Education, opened the application process for schools.

State of play: Arkansas school districts can apply for their share of a $50 million grant fund earmarked for safety needs; distribution of that money has not yet begun. The funds must be used to increase school safety measures, using the commission's final report as a guideline.

By the numbers: Schools like Bentonville could receive up to $713,400 and Springdale as much as $844,900; smaller districts like Mountainburg or Pea Ridge could get up to $115,575 and $183,025, respectively.

What to watch: Schools have until next Friday to submit grant applications. Of the state's roughly 250 districts, 142 have applied, Kimberly Mundell, spokesperson for the education department, told Axios via email.

  • She anticipates all districts will apply.
  • Schools must process requests for reimbursements from the grant by Dec. 31.

The intrigue: Total grants available, according to the education department's preliminary allocation, add up to $40.8 million.

  • With the remaining $9.2 million or any unclaimed funds, the department will consider making additional grants to help schools meet priority recommendations.
  • After the grant process, the state may consider the "purchase of additional security measures for the benefit and use of school districts," Mundell said.

Go deeper: NWA schools' safety report card


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