During a public hearing by the state Legislative Budget Board at the opening of the Texas Legislature earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was unequivocal: “We have school security issues,” he said.
The board promised to fund security in schools, and there have already been numerous bills filed addressing Patrick’s pronouncement in some form.
If any of those bills pass, money allocated from them would be added to the millions of dollars already allocated and spent from state bond issuances and grants along with a host of federal subsidies given to Texas school districts.
In Texas, the inclusion of money for school safety measures has been helping pass bond proposals. and add to the staffing ranks.
In the past three years, about 81 percent of bond proposals including security measures have passed, compared to about 75 percent of proposals without security spending.
Most of the bonds are specified for infrastructure, although some districts have included money for staffing.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced last in May that his $110 million school safety plan would be aimed at beefing up campus security staffing at schools, through additional mental health training as well as security officers, which will range from full-time staffers to military and law enforcement pensioners.
These will in some cases add legacy costs – Some of the new hires will be eligible for state pensions and other benefits, increasing the public pension obligations of the state.
The districts are leaning more heavily on personnel than infrastructure, said Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, a Texas-based consulting firm for government contractors.
The state House Public Education Committee in September issued a report based on Abbott’s plan that recommended 81 new full-time safety-related positions around the state, including 34 jobs at the Texas School Safety Center, which was established in 2001 to provide training and technical assistance to schools.
The agency has for years been a resource for schools but most recently “people are really paying attention and clamoring for our assistance,” said Tom Kelly, the agency’s school safety specialist.
“When you add staff, it tends to be an ongoing commitment,” said Joy Baskin, director of legal services for the Texas Association of School Boards. She hopes districts will consider the long-term costs.
“I think most districts will choose, if they have the option, to add personnel if it is in their budget,” Baskin said.
Among the bonds passed last year:
- In the Alvin school district, $480 million, including $12.3 million in upgrades to police department equipment, cameras, campus fencing, access control and emergency response systems.
- The Kerrville district included secured entrances, more security cameras, more lighting and lockdown hardware in its $88.9 million package.
- Fort Bend’s $992 million bond proposal contained $14.9 million for security upgrades and investments, including $1.2 million for door locks, $3 million for a student ID badge solution and $1.25 million for fencing.
The federal government is also financing school security. Congress released $70 million in security funding to schools, which, along with the security-based local bond money, gives districts a free flowing stream of public money to tap.
The Texas Education Agency received $2 million in federal grants to allocate to school districts for security.
That money is aimed almost exclusively at personnel, said TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson.
Mental health training beyond that funded by the state is another top priority.
Districts in Alpin, Italy, and Santa Fe all received a share of the money in a first round of funding; but the remaining allocation won’t be made until is pending the end of the federal government shutdown ends. A high school shooting in the Santa Fe district in May left 10 dead.
The scurrying comes after a number of high profile school shootings around the U.S., including the tragedy in Texas and another in Broward County, Fla.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that during the 1999-2000 school year, 19 percent of the nation’s campuses were equipped with security cameras. Today the figure is about 81 percent.
However, the odds of being a victim of a shooting in one of the nation’s 122,000 public and private K-12 schools remain rare.
“There were more school [shootings] in the last five years of the 1990s than between 2013 and 2017,” said James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University. He’s found that since 1990, there have been 22 shootings at K-12 schools in which two or more people were shot, not including the shooters.
Five of those have occurred since 2013, with 27 victims, compared to 33 killed in the last half of the 1990s.
Regardless of the odds, the security spending will continue.
“What kind of price can you put on the lives of teachers and students?” said Culbertson from the Texas Education Agency. “I’ve never heard that there is too much spending.”
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].