Last summer, the actor Matthew McConaughey lent his voice and star power to the White House’s push for action on gun safety following the deadly shooting at an elementary school in his hometown of Uvalde, Texas.
Now, he’s launching an endeavor to ensure that the $1 billion in school safety funding included in the law resulting from last year’s push, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, doesn’t go to waste.
“When these funds get disseminated the right way to where it’s needed, it’s gonna help,” McConaughey told POLITICO in an interview. “Is it the solution to any and all school violence? Hell no. Is it a step solid in the right direction? Hell yes.”
On Thursday, McConaughey launched the Greenlights Grant Initiative, a privately funded program intended to help smaller school districts and local education agencies (LEAs) apply for the competitive grants available under the law. The funding is meant to help establish safer and healthier learning environments and prevent and respond to acts of bullying, violence, and hate, as well as other educational programs.
The need for such a program first became clear, McConaughey said, when the actor and his wife, Camila, had dinner with Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) a few months after the bipartisan law was enacted. The lawmaker noted that only 12 of the 119 schools in his district had applied for grants under the law — and none got approved.
“We started to do research and said, ‘Is this a localized problem to that area?’ No. It’s a national problem,” McConaughey said. “We noticed it was happening all over the place that people were not aware or didn’t have the ability or the resources to fill out grants and write them competitively.”
Under the law, the grant money can be reallocated if it isn’t distributed by 2026. “That would make the passing of the bill a great symbol that wasn’t really activated and didn’t become useful, and I think that’d be a shame,” McConaughey said.
Part of the actor’s new effort involves a public awareness campaign with a spot featuring the actor himself and a website launched Thursday, all to ensure school districts know the funding is available. Additionally, the initiative will offer higher-need school districts multiple resources to help in applying for the grants — tutorials, webinars, guidebooks and even grant writing services at no cost.
Sasha Pudelski, the director of advocacy for AASA, The School Superintendents Association, said the initiative “doesn’t just tell multiple federal agencies to ‘do better’ — it will model for them how to target federal dollars to schools more equitably and how to level the playing field so that resource-poor communities have a fighting chance to pull down critical school safety funding.”
McConaughey, who met with several lawmakers in Washington last summer, has also established a strategic advisory board chaired by a group of bipartisan lawmakers who played key roles in the passage of the BSCA: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), and Gonzales.
“The long term goal is to simplify this process, because it is not simple at all,” McConaughey said.