State legislators made school safety a top priority this year after 19 students and two teachers died in the 2022 Uvalde school shooting. But even after they passed a sweeping bill on the topic this May, schools have been raising the alarm that the $1.4 billion approved to fund the new initiatives doesn’t go nearly far enough.
School districts are now worried that political fighting over vouchers might prevent them from getting additional help.
House Bill 3, signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in June, requires school districts to develop active-shooter plans and mandates mental health training for certain employees. It also provides funds for schools to install silent panic buttons in classrooms and requires each campus to have an armed guard present during school hours.
All those measures created new costs for schools already dealing with high inflation, a challenging labor market and a disappointing end to this year’s regular legislative session, in which a measure that would have sent schools an additional $4.5 billion fell victim to squabbling between the Texas House and Senate over voucher programs.
Many school officials have said the $10 per student and $15,000 per campus that each district got for school safety expenses doesn’t go far enough to cover what for many districts includes the need to hire new full-time personnel at each school.
When safety measures like protective fencing are mandated by the state, the limited number of vendors who offer the service greatly increase prices, said Craig Bessent, a Texas School Safety Center board member appointed by Abbott. This creates an issue for smaller school districts that spend most of the funding they receive on other needs like school buses and teacher pay.
Hearne Independent School District Superintendent Adrain Johnson said his rural district has been forced to spend other funds on the new safety measures. In recent years, the district has made several safety upgrades, including adding metal detectors, silent panic buttons, new fencing and additional cameras to campuses.
In addition to increased safety measures, the district spends approximately $115,000 a year to pay for two officers, equipment, training and a vehicle for the district’s campuses.
“It’s disappointing that we didn’t get the funding to do it at a level that doesn’t hurt the district, and allows us to keep most of our funding dedicated to the education of children,” he said.
There was a bill passed in the Senate to add some money for schools to pay for all this stuff – not enough, but some – but because vouchers haven’t passed (and hopefully will not) the bill went nowhere because it wasn’t on the special session agenda, which is set by Greg Abbott who’s now off to Israel for some reason. All of these items are reasonable and even good ideas on their own, but the complete resistance to even admitting that guns are a huge part of the problem makes it all look ridiculous. Like mandating that everyone put the fire department on speed dial when their houses are all made of dry wood and faulty wiring. You know what I’m going to say so here it is: Nothing will change until we get a different government in this state.