04/08/2013 11:27 am ET Updated Jun 08, 2013

Now Is the Time to Protect Our Kids

Over the last decade, children in the United States have been subject to some of the deadliest school shootings in the nation's history. From Red Lake, Minn., to Virginia Tech, to the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., our communities lost too many young, innocent lives to violence. In addition, in low-income communities, gun violence in and around schools is all too common. These incidents do not receive as much attention from the media but take our children's lives just the same.

Our kids' lives are at stake. As a nation, we are responsible for doing whatever it takes to protect our children from this public health epidemic. Strong, decisive action and leadership is needed in Washington, D.C., to address this crisis and promote common sense solutions that will save lives.

An important place to start is schools. Every working day, the safety of nearly 68 million U.S. children is in the hands of school officials and caregivers. We as a nation must ensure our schools are as safe and prepared as possible for emergencies. Save the Children's commitment to the principle of school safety is at the heart of our disaster preparedness, response, and recovery programs.

President Obama has taken an important first step to make schools safer. In January, he outlined several new federal initiatives in his plan "Now is the Time." When the president submits his budget request next month, he will call upon Congress to authorize programs to help schools better prepare and respond to emergency events.

These initiatives include:

  • grants for states to help schools develop and implement high-quality emergency management plans;
  • a new, $50-million initiative to help thousands of schools create safer learning environments and address chronic problem behaviors such as bullying, drug abuse, and poor attendance; and
  • a new, innovative federal program aimed to help schools obtain safety equipment and provide critical emergency training to staff. Additionally, this program will greatly help schools hire resource officers, psychologists, social workers, and counselors.

Without waiting for Congress, the president moved quickly, ordering the Department of Education to work across federal agencies to craft a model emergency management plan. In these discussions, external stakeholders like Save the Children have been included. We are hopeful that the final product to be released in June will be a road map that states can follow. Having this kind of blueprint will give expert guidance to states to help develop their own plans.

While I am very pleased that President Obama is doing his part in tackling this problem, he will need the help of Congress from members in both parties. It is true that we live in a politically divided society, but public opinion has overwhelmingly indicated that Americans want Washington to find ways to work together to keep our children safe while they are at school. Ensuring schools have high-quality, effective emergency plans is something we can all support.