$800M left on the table | #schoolsaftey

Monica Madden and Kevin Baskar

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Some Texas school leaders are feeling frustrated after state lawmakers gaveled out, likely for the rest of the year, without passing funds already set aside to help school districts pay for new safety and security measures mandated by the state.

Left on the table included a proposal that would have funneled $800 million for school safety initiatives, which school districts have struggled with meeting under a new law.

Senate Bill 5 from the fourth special session was tasked with various school funding measures, including “doubling the per campus allotments and per student allotments” for improved safety measures made into Texas law earlier this year under House Bill 3.

House Bill 3 in the regular session this year made it a requirement for every Texas campus to have an armed person. The measure proved difficult for school campuses to fulfill, as HB 3 allotted only $10 per student for funding the safety measures and $15,000 per campus. Arnett said his school constitutes and him have had go into “reserves to identify other efficiencies” to meet the requirements.

“It costs somewhere around $100,000 per officer just to get them equipped, get them trained, and put them on campus,” Jarrell Independent School District Police Chief Sharif Mezayek told Nexstar in August.

Dr. Jeff Arnett, superintendent of Eanes Independent School District, said he was “disappointed” the legislation didn’t get across the finish line once again.

“We’re responsible for, as a school district, to now provide additional funding hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. Depending upon the size of the school district it is extremely complicated, if not impossible,” he said.

Arnett said he appreciates the Legislature’s focus on school safety measures, but was upset to see politics get in the way of passing the bills to help districts fund the mandates in place to help keep students and faculty safe.

The failed school safety bill, amongst other bills, were casualties of a broader debate around Gov. Greg Abbott’s key priority and main reason for the third and fourth special sessions — education savings accounts, also referred to as school choice or school vouchers.

The governor has said he would veto any education legislation that comes to his desk without a done deal on ESAs, which the House killed before the Thanksgiving holiday. Arnett asked lawmakers to consider the education bills — which also had included proposals for teacher pay raises and increasing the basic allotment for public schools — by themselves.

“Please consider these things individually on their own merits, if you’re going to mandate them, then understand the need understand the cost of implementing these measures. And all of these deserve debate and discussion. But consider them separately so one is not tied to the other. We’re not leveraging one to gain the momentum behind another measure,” Arnett said.

SB 5 was passed by the Senate last week, but was never brought up in the lower chamber. In a Tuesday press conference, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick slammed House Speaker Dade Phelan for not bringing up the school safety funding bill, along with another unrelated bill, to the floor in the last week of the special session. Patrick appeared to intentionally mispronounce Phelan’s last name as “Fail-in” on numerous occasions throughout the press conference.

“We passed the bill over there for $800 million now for school districts. It died today because Dade Phelan said ‘I can’t do anything in six days.’ If you can’t pass it on six days and you’ve got the wrong job and he needs to resign,” Patrick said.

Phelan tried to quash the notion that the House is to blame for failed school safety funding in a statement he shared online after the Senate passed SB 5. The speaker pointed numerous measures the House passed during the regular session to fund school safety measures, but were not taken up by the Senate.

“Now the Senate has proposed an entirely new bill…so that Dan Patrick can take to social media, pretending to care about adequately funding school safety while blaming others for the ramifications of his own inactions,” Phelan wrote.

Abbott has not indicated if or when he will call a fifth special session to address all of the education issues that failed in the 2023 sessions.

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