Artificial intelligence in schools, particularly generative AI, was initially criticized as a method for cheating or cutting corners. But as use cases for AI grow, it may be the extra security everyone seeks.

GovSpend’s Meeting Intelligence module shows that artificial intelligence is increasingly on the minds of school boards across the country, with mentions in district meetings steadily rising over the last two years. 

More Schools Discussing AI in Board Meetings

AI Beyond the Classroom

Meeting topics trend towards guidance on how to use AI in classrooms, but districts are also focused on another way AI may be of use: weapons detection.  

An array of vendors offer schools video surveillance systems that use AI to spot when a student brandishes a weapon and immediately send out an alert to the relevant parties. 

Select vendors and recent data in GovSpend’s Spending & POs database

Company Name School District (State) Date Cost Details Seller
Westminster Public Schools (CO) 8/28/2023 $61,440 Monitoring service for 128 cameras Global Monitoring Solutions
Lincoln Charter (NC) 3/30/2023 $5,568 Annual software renewal A3 Communications
Gregory-Portland ISD (TX) 12/20/2023 $30,500 Gun detection system Omnilert
School District of Neillsville (WI) 11/30/2023 $18,831 32 camera fee pro licenses Spot Ai
Rockford School District No. 205 (IL) 3/19/2024 $9,999 Weapon detection system ZeroEyes Inc

Sourced from GovSpend data.

Efficacy, Privacy, and Funding Are Concerns for School Boards

An examination of purchase orders and contracts in the GovSpend platform reveal which companies are doing business with school districts, while the meeting transcripts show how school boards are approaching these types of contracts.  

In one example, Conroe Independent School District in Texas set aside time during an April 24 meeting for a presentation on the vendors offering artificial intelligence software for weapon detection. The vendors were 21st Century AEYE, Actuate, Drift Net, Omnilert and ZeroEyes. Some concerns expressed during the meeting included the fact that weapons could only be detected if brandished as well as the risks associated with storing video of students.

In another example, the Crete-Monee School District No. 201-U in Illinois met Jan. 16 to discuss adding ZeroEyes technology to the school’s video surveillance system, which would require replacing existing cameras with newer models. One official asked the presenters whether ZeroEyes could help with applying for grants for funding. 

“And did they tell you that they have ways to help you find money to pay for this stuff? Because the rep that I know has said that she’s able to help districts,” the board member said. 

School districts can often partly fund weapon detection systems through “safety grants” from their state. 

For instance, the Maryland General Assembly this year passed a law to preserve a School Safety Grant Program, with at least $10 million of funding per year. As part of the same bill, the assembly directed a commission to determine whether artificial intelligence weapon detection systems would be eligible to receive school construction funding. 

Meanwhile, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on May 15 vetoed a line item from a school funding bill that would have established up to $5 million in grants for gun-detection systems. According to a May 13 article in The Lima News, the bill would have established criteria that only ZeroEyes would have been able to meet, thereby blocking competitors from qualifying for the grants.  Competitor Omnilert was among the people who contacted the governor urging her to veto it, according to The Lima News.

“Opinions on weapons detections [in schools] are very mixed,” Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero said during a June 2023 school board meeting to discuss increasing school safety. In its final safety plan, the district did not implement a weapons detection system while it did bring back police officers into schools. 

Also this year, a bill was sponsored in the Colorado General Assembly to establish funding for school firearm detection, but it was not taken up by the Appropriations Committee. 

AI Gaining Momentum Anyway

Still, GovSpend data shows that school districts are finding ways to move forward with AI camera technology. The Co-ops and Contracts module shows that Baltimore County Public Schools entered a cooperative agreement in 2023 with Skyline Technology Solutions LLC to procure, among other security equipment, Omnilert’s Gun Detection “software, monitoring, camera surveillance equipment, 24/7 support, and training for all schools.” The district plans to pilot the system at high schools followed by middle schools. The agreement, which has a term of three years and nine months, stated the weapon detection system would cost $860,704. 

One type of AI-powered weapon detection system that has sparked negative headlines is Evolv Technology. Evolv is different from the aforementioned companies because it doesn’t rely on surveillance camera footage, it provides weapons detectors that use low frequency radio waves to scan people who walk through a set of gates. The radio waves are analyzed using AI to identify potential weapons, allowing for a faster procession than traditional metal detectors.  Evolv has become the target of lawsuits and bad press after its system allegedly did not pick up a knife used in an October 2022 school stabbing in Utica, New York. 

Despite the blow to its reputation, GovSpend data shows that school districts are continuing to purchase Evolv’s weapons detection system. 

In one recent example found on GovSpend, a March 22, 2024 purchase order from the Champaign Unit 4 School District in Illinois showed a payment of $131,951.05 made to Evolv Technologies for Evolv equipment.  

While artificial intelligence is still unproven in many arenas, schools, like the rest of the world, are devoting more time and money to contend with its growing influence.

About the Author: Maria Henderson

Maria is a data journalist with a background in the financial information technology business.

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