Dayton backs $21M to boost school safety, student mental health

Gov. Mark Dayton speaks at a press conference.
Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday laid out his plan to fund safety and security improvements in schools across Minnesota.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2017

Updated: 2:55 a.m. | Posted: 7 a.m.

Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday proposed a $20.9 million spending package intended to boost school safety including $5 million in grants for schools to provide mental health services to students who need help.

Dayton also urged the Legislature to work together to pass legislation this session to reduce gun violence and make it harder for criminals to access guns.

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"Our mission is to prevent every school shooting. To succeed, we must take action now," Dayton said in a statement, citing press reports indicating at least 21 threats have been made against Minnesota schools since last month's high school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

 Dave Moredock speaks to the House Education Finance Committee
Osseo school district risk management coordinator Dave Moredock speaks before the House Education Finance Committee about the need for funding to secure schools inside the State Office Building in St. Paul on Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

School safety measures are a rare shared priority between Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature. Lawmakers have been interested in creating a new fund or reworking existing funding sources to help schools pay for security improvements.

Dayton on Wednesday also made a pitch to change the state's gun control laws, including expanding background checks, requiring a minimum age of 21 to buy an assault rifle and a "red flag" law that would let family members and police ask a judge to temporarily suspend a person's access to firearms if they're concerned the person poses a threat.

He stressed that the gun-related proposals were less likely to pass this year and were separate from his school safety plan.

Minnesota Republican lawmakers last week stopped two DFL gun bills similar to the "red flag" measure and expanded background checks Dayton touted Wednesday.

Republican House members started unveiling their school safety initiatives at the Capitol Tuesday.

Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, introduced a bill to allow districts to use existing levy and aid money to improve school safety and security. Another measure added funding for suicide prevention training for teachers.

Students march to Capitol to protest gun violence

Dayton unveiled his plan shortly before hundreds of Twin Cities students began a march to the Capitol to demand change in the wake of school threats across the state and the shootings in Florida.

The march was organized at Central, but was joined by hundreds of students from around the city, including public, private and charter schools.

The students lined the steps of the Capitol and a delegation went in to the Capitol and Gov. Mark Dayton's office. The crowd also heard from the president of St. Paul teachers union, lawmakers and DFL gubernatorial candidate Erin Murphy.

Student speakers called for stricter gun control, bans on semi-automatic assault rifles and universal background checks.