Schools could soon get a safety infrastructure funding boost after the Senate on Sunday passed a bill that would provide districts $15,000 per campus for security upgrades and tighten auditing requirements.
While senators generally applauded the additional $328 million in school safety infrastructure spending, some lamented that there wasn’t money dedicated specifically for mental health programs.
House Bill 3 combines portions from several safety-related bills, including one previously passed by the House, said bill sponsor Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville.
The bill would give districts $15,000 per campus and $10 per student for safety-related funding, create mental health training programs for school staffs and beef up auditing, training and intruder planning requirements.
“It’s the first time in legislation we’ll have inspectors working out of our service centers and will go to our campuses every year,” Nichols said.
Notably, the Senate version of HB 3 removed the requirement that districts have an armed staff member on every campus. That provision drew significant opposition in the House over concerns about cost and the possibility of arming a teacher if the district couldn’t hire an officer.
Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, authored the original version of the bill.
Despite the investment, several Democratic lawmakers were frustrated that the bill didn’t include more money for mental health programs in schools.
The state should be investing even more in making sure schools have programs that can help people, said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.
“Pull out pictures of your children, grandchildren and think about parents, grandchildren who have lost these precious souls,” West said. “Ask yourself whether we’ve done everything we can to make certain that child will be safe when they go to school.”
West introduced an amendment that would have given districts at least $100,000 to address mental health issues but ultimately withdrew it when Nichols spoke against it.
Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, offered an amendment that would have increased the per pupil payments from $10 to $100, which was in an original version of another safety-related bill.
“There is nothing more important, I believe, than what this bill addresses,” Menéndez said. “Obviously, I’m going to be supportive of this legislation but I just wish it went further.”
The amendment was tabled and taken up for a vote.
HB 3 is part of a focus on campus safety this session, the first opportunity for lawmakers to address campus security after the May 24, 2022, school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that left 19 children and two adults dead.
Families this week are grieving the one-year anniversary of the shooting, the deadliest in state history.
Victims’ relatives, however, have focused their efforts on bills that would tighten gun controls. Specifically, families threw their full support behind HB 2744, which would have raised the age from 18 to 21 to buy AR-15-style, semi-automatic rifles in Texas. However, lawmakers didn’t place the bill on a House calendar before a major legislative deadline, effectively ending its consideration.
HB 3 will now head back to the House, where members would need to agree on the Senate changes before the bill can move forward to the governor to become law.
The House is also scheduled Tuesday to consider Senate Bill 11, the Senate’s version of a school safety bill.
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