Schools Are Leveraging Grant Funds to Launch Anonymous Reporting Systems. Here’s How One State Did It.

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young students looking at phone outside of school bus

A superintendent in Wisconsin wept following a cybersafety assembly held to launch STOPit in his school district. His community was grieving after a student from a neighboring district committed suicide a few days earlier. Students approached the superintendent after the assembly and shared the text messages they’d received from the distraught student just before his suicide, including messages with photos showing the weapon he intended to use. The students did their best to get the student to choose life – but they didn’t know what else to do. If the anonymous reporting app had been available just days earlier, they could have used it – a move that may have saved a life.

“[The Superintendent] was broken-hearted,” said Kerrie Ackerson, Development and Innovation Specialist for Wisconsin Cooperative Educational Service Agency 10 (CESA 10). “He just wished that he had STOPit a week earlier. He said, ‘I don’t care what I’m paying for this, we need this. I will never put my kids in a position again where they have something like those texts and don’t know what to do with them – then they have to live with that outcome on their heart.”

Ackerson is working to ensure that the chances of this scenario repeating are slimmer. CESA 10 is one of a dozen organizations in Wisconsin that functions as a co-op for public schools, pooling resources and making them available to individual schools to save money and create efficiencies. The organization recently assisted nearly 100 districts in accessing funds from the state’s Department of Justice to improve safety at schools across Wisconsin.

Successful applicants were required to initially focus on hardening their schools by adding bullet resistant window film, door locks and other infrastructure upgrades. Any remaining funds could be used at their discretion.

“We encouraged them to find a balance of the hardening items and then some softer items, like mental health first aid training for teachers and other things that fell on the preventative end of the spectrum,” Ackerson said. “STOPit fit nicely there.”

On behalf of districts, CESA 10 negotiated a deal with STOPit for a bundle including its anonymous reporting app,its 24-hour incident monitoring service, and assistance organizing cybersafety assemblies. The arrangement helped make the service affordable for Wisconsin’s smaller rural districts.

Available Funds

While every state has its own distinct funding streams, Ackerson points to a few sources that could potentially finance anonymous reporting systems in schools, anywhere. Among them:

  • Title IVa: This federal funding pool promotes activities that “support safe and healthy students,” and Ackerson said that definition is flexible. It is distributed to each state as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act and distributed via formula. This fund was nearly tripled in 2018 and increased a bit more in 2019.
  • Stop School Violence Act Grants: The latest federal budget provides $95 million in funding in 2019. It’s a small pot with lots of competition, but the legislation specifically mentions the development and operation of anonymous reporting systems as a measure for which schools can receive funding.
  • Philanthropy: Ackerson encourages schools to explore partnering with philanthropic organizations for solutions like STOPit. This could also include donors and business leaders at the regional/local level who have a record of investing in their communities.

“Don’t overlook philanthropy when you’re thinking about school safety,” she said. “Most very philanthropic individuals have children; they went to school and they understand why school safety matters. Additionally, STOPit has such a large impact at such a low price point that it is very manageable and valuable to local philanthropists be they individuals or businesses.”

Promoting Strengths to Grantors

CESA 10 researched nearly a dozen tiplines and anonymous reporting apps before choosing STOPit. The features that set it apart was its 24-hour monitoring service and customer satisfaction. Many schools don’t have the resources to watch for reports outside of school hours, and the evaluation team was not comfortable with the idea that an urgent message could be sent in the middle of the night and go unseen. After a reference check with other STOPit users garnered positive feedback, CESA 10 committed to the system, negotiated an agreement, and began offering it to schools.

When writing grants for anonymous reporting tools, Ackerson recommends that schools be specific about how anonymous reporting is part of a balanced, holistic approach to addressing school safety. She said grantors also appreciate that tools like STOPit are especially effective when deployed as a local solution, with the system being run in-house, not outsourced to an unaffiliated vendor or police agency. Applicants should also call attention to the demonstrated effectiveness of anonymous reporting to save lives and curb crime in a cost-effective way.

Finally, Ackerson said that a powerful selling point for grant reviewers is that mobile device-based solutions are unquestionably the best way to tap into younger generations.

“Most people can envision kids walking around staring at their phone. Most people can envision kids seeing something in the hallway, like a fight, and recording it on their phone,” Ackerson said. “We want to meet kids where they’re at. And where they’re at, like it or not, is on their hand-held devices.”

To speak with a specialist about implementing the STOPit anonymous reporting solution in your school, call us today.

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