School safety funding is still a farce

Blame Greg Abbott and his voucher monomania.

Public school administrators were well aware that the Texas House’s vote to block a school voucher program last month would likely mean getting no new money for teacher raises and inflation adjustments this year. Gov. Greg Abbott had long threatened to veto any education funding bill without a voucher component.

But they were surprised and disappointed that proposals that would have provided them with additional funds for school safety — a stated priority for many lawmakers in the aftermath of the Uvalde school shooting — also fell apart.

The fourth special legislative session this year ended without a vote on separate House and Senate bills that would have boosted school safety funding — both of which came after school districts statewide complained they didn’t have enough money to fulfill new safety requirements passed earlier this year.

Now, with many districts already operating in deficit budgets, superintendents across the state say they will be forced to make significant budget cuts to meet the new safety mandates.

“Whether we’re rural, large, small, urban, suburban, when we superintendents get together and chat… all of us are like, ‘Where are we going to get the dollars? What are you cutting?’” Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said. She added that her district might have to nix extracurriculars, field trips and transportation for students in magnet schools — along with laying off teachers and increasing student class sizes.

House Bill 3 — which the Texas Legislature approved in May in response to the Uvalde shooting — requires districts to post an armed security guard at every school and provide mental health training to certain employees. To fund these measures, the law gave school districts $15,000 per campus and $10 per student, along with allotting $1.1 billion to the Texas Education Agency to administer grants that schools can apply for. In 2022, lawmakers also approved $400 million to help school districts pay for safety upgrades.

Last month, the House drafted a bill that would have boosted that funding by $1.3 billion. The Senate crafted its own $800 million school safety bill, which would have also increased the funding schools receive for safety upgrades and given the TEA $400 million more for its school safety grants. Both bills failed to advance for a vote in the opposite chamber.

Elizalde said Dallas ISD went into a $186 million deficit this year to keep up with costs, including the implementation of the new security measures ordered by HB 3. The district has recently acquired a grant of more than $20 million from the TEA, she said, but the one-time grant won’t ensure Dallas public schools can keep up with security mandates in the long term.


Elizalde said Dallas ISD has opted to hire trained security guards instead of licensed police officers, both because of a law enforcement officer shortage and because security guards typically cost less.

But even the cost of security guards is barely covered by HB 3’s funding, Temple ISD Superintendent Bobby Ott said. Hiring security guards across his 15-school district can cost up to $900,000, which would be on top of the $1.8 million Temple ISD needs to pay for all the required infrastructure updates, Ott said. The district only got $200,000 through HB3, and the state only awarded it $400,000 through the new grant program.

“I’ve always said that House Bill 3 has really just passed on debt to school districts,” he said.

See here for the background. You don’t have to just blame Abbott, of course – Dan Patrick is equally responsible, as is the Republican-majority Legislature. They’re the ones who passed this enormous unfunded mandate instead of doing almost anything tangible to try to reduce gun violence. And you know what I’m going to say about that. Same story, different chapter, and it’s a very long book.

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