AUSTIN (Nexstar) — School security experts gave lawmakers their input on legislation that aims to improve safety on Texas campuses.
The legislation, Senate Bill 11, was authored by State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood. His district includes Santa Fe, Texas, where a gunman killed 10 people on May 18, 2018.
“We say a lot of times that education is the most important thing we do in Texas, but it’s really just right below public safety,” Taylor said as he laid out his bill at Tuesday’s hearing in the senate education committee. “If you’re not safe it doesn’t matter how well-educated you are, and frankly if you’re not safe in your school it obviously doesn’t matter.”
The bill’s introduction follows months of roundtable discussions and hearings at the Capitol that involved members of the public, lawmakers, and law enforcement from around the state.
SB 11 would require districts to form a threat-assessment team, come up with an operations plan for emergencies, and consider increasing law enforcement presence on campus.
Taylor said: “It will also provide additional mental health training resources and assistance by requiring trauma informed care and training, allowing regional education services to work with local mental health authorities as an additional resource for school districts in their region.”
While Taylor indicated the bill was not a final draft and he was open for discussion on making adjustments, lawmakers and the public questioned how to pay the short-term costs of hardening schools and allocating money for ongoing costs such as violence prevention. The fiscal note filed Tuesday by the state’s Legislative Budget Board estimated an impact of nearly $550 million from the general revenue fund through the biennium ending in August 2021. Taylor has suggested tapping into the Economic Stabilization Fund, or Rainy Day Fund, for some of the one-time payments.
There is still some considerable debate to be had about how to pay for the changes. Some argue that one-time costs associated with purchasing security cameras and metal detectors require long-term payments for maintenance and operation. Others worry money would run out for on-going costs to pay for counselors and other mental health professionals brought in to work with students.
“I’m particularly interested in how we allocate the funding for mental health,” said State Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Dallas.
First to testify was Santa Fe ISD’s board president Rusty Norman.
“We have now joined a club that no one wants to belong to,” Norman said after appearing in front of the senate panel.
“We feel like our experience and the learning can help others in their planning and stressing that they have a plan, and that they follow that and that they build and they train and they look at our experiences with our security officers, with our counselors with metal detectors, with all the things that we’ve implemented since the tragedy on May 18,” Norman said.
Different districts also have different needs, so there is a local decision-making component. Some districts have their own police departments, while others rely on local police or sheriff’s departments, changing the approach to implementing emergency planning. Schools across the state built their campus buildings at different time periods, which lawmakers aim to address when distributing funds for hardening schools.
Norman said he is optimistic lawmakers can find a way to protect more Texas students.
“Failure in this is not an option,” he said. “We owe it to our children, we owe it to future generations to create this environment for their educational experience, but we owe it as a society to Americans as a whole to stop this epidemic of violence that somehow has been created in this country.”