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Two new school safety funding measures passed out of committee Friday that could bring an additional $1.3 billion to Texas public schools.
The measures — House Bill 2 and House Joint Resolution 1 — were unanimously approved by a vote of 14 to 0 by the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunities and Enrichment, and now go before the House Calendars Committee, which is responsible for sending bills to Council to vote on as a whole. .
In September, a new law went into effect requiring public school districts to develop active shooter plans and mandating mental health training for some employees. But since the Legislature passed those mandates in June, public school officials have complained they don’t have enough money to comply with the law.
House Bill 2 would create and fund two school safety grant programs that would help pay for security personnel, protective fencing, metal detectors and mental health prevention, among other school safety measures. To fund these grant programs, House Joint Resolution 1 would create a ballot measure that will go before voters next May.
HB 2’s first grant program, which is capped at $1.1 billion annually, would give each school additional money based on 1% of its current base allotment, which is the amount of money the state gives a district for each student it educates. Districts with more than 2,000 students will receive no more than $200,000, which can be used to train staff, maintain security systems and provide mental health services.
The second grant program has a cap of $250 million annually and will compensate districts for approved school safety projects.
State Rep. Ken King, R-Canada, who authored both new measures, said he worked with lawmakers throughout the summer to craft additional legislation that would boost funding for school safety.
“As much as I’m really tired of having more hearings over and over again, I’m honored to have another opportunity to bring this before the (House) and before the Senate to ensure the safety of every child who enters the classroom,” King said. He said.
State Rep. Barbara Gervin Hawkins, D-San Antonio, expressed concerns Friday that the legislation would only cover future projects and would not compensate schools for safety projects they have already implemented.
“What concerns me, for example, is that ballistic shields have already been purchased for people, fencing has already been put up, technology has already been implemented, and schools say they never had enough money to cover it,” she said.
King said the bill would not retroactively cover past expenditures but would cover the majority of future projects schools must undertake to meet safety standards.
Advocates who testified before the committee on Friday also stressed the importance of prioritizing mental health services and intervention when approaching school safety. All age levels benefit from having an established program that monitors and supports their mental health, said Texas School Safety Center board leaders, appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Although the bill includes funding for mental health intervention, it has been “corrected” to comply with existing school safety mandates, said Steven Alleman, a policy specialist at Disability Rights Texas. Ideally, mental health support would be a priority, especially for students with special needs, who are more likely to need special behavioral services, he said.
“We would like to see school safety addressed in terms of prevention,” Aleman added. “What can we do to support schools and school staff, so that incidents don’t break out, and so kids don’t bring guns to school or use something as a weapon?”
Christine Lewis, a fourth-grade teacher at Wood Elementary School in the Arlington Independent School District, said her school doesn’t have the resources to properly help students who have had disturbing, and sometimes dangerous, seizures in her classroom.
“School safety is more than just strengthening our schools. We need resources to help with mental health,” Lewis said.