Pa. lawmakers push for state funding for school monitoring program in hopes of slowing gun violence

The School District of Philadelphia launched its Safe Path gun violence prevention program in 2022. Pa. lawmakers are now calling for $50 million in state funds to expand it.

Two people wearing safety vests stand at a street corner. A SEPTA bus and passersby are visible in the background.

Robert Lynch, 24, (left) and Paul T. Jackson, 34, patrol the corner of Broad and Susquehanna streets, a convergence point for teens when three nearby schools dismiss for the day. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Pennsylvania legislators are asking for $50 million to fund the placement of safety monitors around school campuses with the hopes of preventing gun violence.

“Safe path” programs aim to keep children safe by hiring unarmed community members to stand guard on school perimeters. These monitors keep eyes out for suspicious activity around campus, defuse arguments between students, walk children to and from home or public transit, and provide mentorship.

Chicago created a Safe Passage program in 2010, now serving 172 schools with 1,200 monitors. A 2019 Journal of Urban Economics study found that crime around the Safe Passage routes dropped 14% after Chicago schools implemented the program.

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State Sen. Sharif Street, a Philadelphia Democrat, said the funding should come from the state’s multi-billion dollar budget surplus. 

“We’ve had too many incidents across the commonwealth where young people haven’t made it to school safely,” he said. “There are folks who are working day and day to make sure that happens.”

A Philadelphia high schooler was shot on his way to school in January. In fall 2022, Nicolas Elizalde was shot and killed at a Roxborough High School football game. In 2017, fewer than 100 Philadelphia shooting victims were under the age of 18, compared to 217 in 2022, according to city data.

The School District of Philadelphia began its Safe Path program with six schools in the fall of 2022. In 2023, the school board approved an expansion to 12 more schools. The Penn Injury Science Center contributed $2 million to a further expansion, bringing the total number of Safe Path campuses to 22, according to Superintendent Tony Watlington.

The Safe Path monitors are hired in addition to Philadelphia Police Department officers who patrol 27 “safety zones” around select schools and school resource officers who provide security inside school buildings.

District officials have not yet released an analysis of the program in Philly.

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James Washington, director of communications for the Institute for the Development of African American Youth, believes the Philadelphia program needs more funding to be able to expand its operating hours. The nonprofit has a contract with the city to hire the Safe Path monitors.

“While we’re doing it in the afternoon for a few hours, we know a lot of the planning of the violence happens in the morning,” he said. “During the daytime when they’re on their way to school when they’re talking about doing the things they’re doing post-school.”

The lawmakers plan to introduce legislation or an amendment to the fiscal code that would appropriate the $50 million for the program.

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro’s office did not respond to requests for comments about the Safe Path program.

School District of Philadelphia officials highlighted the Safe Path program in their announcement of back-to-school safety plans this fall. Those plans also include hiring additional police officers, using a $600,000 state grant, and putting minimally invasive metal detectors in 14 middle schools.

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