Texas Senate ups ante on school safety funding after Uvalde. But does move come too late? | #schoolsaftey

AUSTIN — The Senate on Friday doubled the amount of additional money it proposes to give Texas’ public and charter schools to pay for costly infrastructure upgrades and staffing now required by the state in the wake of the Uvalde massacre.

But with the clock winding down on the current special session, it was unclear whether the House would act on the Senate’s $800 million, late-hour school safety bill.

The special session can last no longer than 30 days. The current one, the year’s fourth, must end by Wednesday.

In recent days, the House has bragged that it has approved even bigger amounts of spending on school safety, only to see the Senate drag its feet.

On Friday, however, Houston GOP Sen. Joan Huffman said the House unwisely proposed drawing down “rainy day” dollars. Also, House members’ approach would require voter approval of a constitutional amendment next May, she said.

“It would have taken a while for that money to get flowing,” said Huffman, the Senate’s chief budget writer and the measure’s author.

Her proposed law, Senate Bill 5, would boost spending on school safety in the current two-year budget cycle by $800 million, to $2.5 billion of “historic investments,” she said.

Spokespersons for House Speaker Dade Phelan did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Phelan would shift his chamber into overdrive to speed action on the Senate’s proposal.

Huffman’s bill would pump up a school safety allotment the Legislature established during the year’s regular session, which ended in May. Currently, the allotment is $10 per student and $15,000 per campus per year. The Senate bill would double both amounts. The extra cost would be $400 million.

Huffman’s bill also would provide $400 million of additional money to help school districts meet a new requirement that they hire armed personnel for every campus.

Districts have complained the state hasn’t provided enough money for them to hire the security officers and “harden” campuses with fences, cameras and metal detectors – much less treat underlying causes for mass shootings.

In the regular session, lawmakers tapped the state’s huge surplus to make a one-time, $1.1 billion investment in school hardening and increase spending on the school safety allotment by $300 million.

Will Texas funnel more money to keep students safe?

This fall, lawmakers vowed to do more. But infighting between the two chambers over a voucherlike program demanded by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has stalled action on school funding measures. The House has balked at launching education savings accounts, which would for certain families publicly fund private school.

Unlike a school funding and teacher bonus pay bill the Senate passed in early November, Huffman’s new bill wouldn’t just double the school safety allotment but also would help to pay for the armed security officers.

Two weeks ago, the House proposed to throw open the coffers for school safety even more.

By 144-3, the chamber passed a proposed constitutional amendment by Panhandle GOP Rep. Ken King.

If approved by voters, it would provide an additional $1.1 billion a year for school safety grants, starting in the 2024-25 school year. The money would come from oil and gas production tax revenues that otherwise would flow into the state’s savings account, or “rainy day fund.” The allotment would be eliminated. In each future year, the schools would get $1.1 billion.

The House’s plan has languished in a Senate committee.

In October, Salado GOP Rep. Brad Buckley, the House’s chief schools policy writer, had circulated a one-page memo proposing to boost the allotment to $100 per student and $70,000 per campus by the 2024-25 school year.

King’s plan would give schools a far bigger, ongoing source of money.

Texas superintendents want safer schools. But money and logistics stand in the way

In June, Abbott signed a priority school safety law that requires at least one armed guard per campus. It came after 19 children and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary in Texas’ deadliest school shooting.

However, hiring school police is a personnel challenge – and a costly one. Still, in the regular session, the Legislature barely raised the amount of money allocated to districts for security.

The safety allotment of $10 per student annually was just a 28-cent increase from what districts received the previous year. The $15,000-per-campus allotment was new.

But administrators want much more money, saying additional funds are necessary to cover both the cost of hardening their campuses and of treating the underlying causes of violence, such as mental health problems.

For example, Dallas ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde previously said her district needs at least $200 per student for safety costs.

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