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Cuccinelli: Private, faith schools can get public funds for security

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Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II says taxpayer funds can be used by localities to supply private and religious schools with armed law enforcement personnel.

Mr. Cuccinelli's little-noticed official advisory opinion, which does not carry the force of law, was issued earlier this summer in response to an inquiry from Sheriff Michael W. Taylor of Pittsylvania County. The sheriff asked whether the local board of supervisors has the legal authority to provide school resource officers funded at county expense to local private schools.

The personnel are uniformed, armed and sworn officers and deputies of local police departments and sheriffs' offices who are assigned primarily to Virginia's middle and high schools.

In the opinion, Mr. Cuccinelli, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, wrote that one of the most important functions of local government is public safety and the exercise of police powers to achieve that safety.

"The Supreme Court of Virginia has construed broadly this general grant of police powers to localities when public safety and morals are involved," he wrote. "Accordingly, it is reasonable to anticipate that local governments may provide funding for law-enforcement positions to be assigned the duties of school resource officers in private as well as public schools located within their jurisdiction, so as to provide for the safety of all children attending school within their jurisdiction."

Unprompted by Sheriff Taylor's inquiry, Mr. Cuccinelli also said localities can provide funding for private schools with religious affiliations. He wrote that even though the inquiry doesn't distinguish between types of private schools, it's appropriate to address because many localities house religiously affiliated private schools.

"Providing such resource officers constitutes a predominantly secular act; it does not appear to advance or inhibit any religion or create an excessive entanglement with religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution," he wrote.

Historically, funding for the program in Virginia has come from a combination of federal and state funds. At the request of Gov. Bob McDonnell, the General Assembly appropriated an additional $1.3 million this year — one of the recommendations from a task force convened after the shooting deaths of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December.

As part of President Obama's response to Newtown, he proposed $150 million to hire up to 1,000 new school resource officers and counselors, and for schools to purchase safety equipment and train "crisis intervention teams" of law enforcement officers, among other provisions.

The grants in Virginia will provide funding for salary and benefits for officers in 42 schools around the state that don't have an officer assigned there. Localities that receive the payments have to provide matching funds.

As part of his education plan, Mr. Cuccinelli is calling for a state constitutional amendment to change provisions that bar public money from being used for "sectarian" schools. He's also seeking to expand a state program that provides low-income children with scholarships to attend private schools.

School choice is an issue debated essentially every year by the General Assembly, with the Virginia Education Association and the campaign of his opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, opposing efforts to use public money for children to attend private schools.

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