U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, the newly elected congressman, had local law officers behind him as he chose a local elementary school classroom to announce his support for $30 million in federal spending on cops in classrooms.
A bill that Meadows is cosponsoring would reinstate the Cops in Schools program, which has not been funded since 2005.
"Some 87 percent of people when polled said they feel like their schools will be much safer if we have additional law enforcement present," Meadows said. "In doing that, it's a practical, common-sense approach."
Meadows, who won Tea Party support during a crowded Republican primary last spring, had said during a forum in Hendersonville that he would the oppose the use of federal grants in the district. He later walked that back to include some law enforcement spending, and he has stressed that the Cops in Schools grants would use unspent money. The $30 million for the program would come from unused funds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, he said.
"We're in tough financial times right now," Meadows said. "Just to go out there and do another grant program, we knew that would be a very difficult sell and one that is not very fiscally responsible.
"We felt that by pulling some of that money aside and making a new priority, it's not additional spending, but it also comes in and helps these officers do the job that they're going to do."
Because the Cops in Schools program was in place several years ago, the bill does not propose a new structure, but the funding of an old one. The grant would last for three years before being renewed. The bill is now being referred to the appropriations committee, Meadows said.
When Cops in Schools was in place, there was a drop in gun-related school violence, Meadows said. Now that there have been more incidents, he said, it makes sense to bring back the funding.
The Hendersonville City Council has already discussed adding police officers to Hendersonville Middle School, Hendersonville Elementary School and Bruce Drysdale Elementary School.
"It's not just about security," Hendersonville Elementary Principal Shannon Marlowe said. "It's also about building relationships with the kids, which I think will head off some problems down the road if students see law enforcement as someone there to help them and not someone who is against them. I think that's really important."
Meadows said that with students as a priority, it is easy to bridge partisan gaps. The bill now has 10 cosponsors from both parties in Congress.
"It's refreshing to have someone go to Washington and start proposing common-sense legislation that goes across party lines and does what it needs to do for the citizens all across this nation," Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye said . "I believe this is going to be a great bill and I think it's very important that we gather support to get this passed."