Texas Senate passes its own school safety funding bill, but little time remains to get it across the finish line

4 months 2 weeks 1 day ago Saturday, December 02 2023 Dec 2, 2023 December 02, 2023 4:14 PM December 02, 2023 in News- Education
Source: https://www.texastribune.org/
The Texas Senate passed Friday a bill that would increase funding for public schools to pay for security upgrades. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune

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The Texas Senate passed a bill Friday that would infuse public schools with more funds to spend on school safety, but it’s unclear whether schools will see that money as lawmakers run out of time to pass legislation.

Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5, authored by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, with a 24-0 vote. It now needs final approval from the House, which passed a similar bill that has been stuck in a Senate committee since last month. The fourth special session began on Nov. 7 and is set to end Wednesday.

SB 5 would cost the state $800 million through 2025. The bill would give the Texas Education Agency $400 million to distribute among public schools. That’s on top of the $1.1 billion that lawmakers already set aside for school safety grants under House Bill 3, which passed during the regular session earlier this year.

[School leaders say Texas’ campus safety funding doesn’t cover new state mandates]

Huffman said SB 5 would allow school districts to comply with HB 3. In particular, districts have been struggling with a requirement to have an armed officer at every campus. Inflation has diminished their buying power and lawmakers have failed to raise the amount of money schools get from the state as debates over school vouchers took center stage this year.

The Senate’s bill would also increase how much the state directly sends to schools for safety improvements. School districts would now get $30,000 per campus and $20 per student. Under HB 3, districts were entitled to only $15,000 per campus and $10 per student.

Huffman alluded that the Senate came up with its own bill because the House’s version would require an election to free up the funds. SB 5 would allow access to the money immediately after Gov. Greg Abbott approves it, she said.

The House's proposal — outlined in House Bill 2 and House Joint Resolution 1 — would give public schools about $2.2 billion for safety measures and establish two school safety grant programs that would help them pay for security personnel, protective fencing, metal detectors and mental health prevention, among other things.

How to provide more funds for school safety might become one more item in the already long list of disagreements between the House and the Senate this year.

Kim Carmichael, press secretary for House Speaker Dade Phelan, said HB 2 represents a more robust commitment to school safety.

“The Senate now proposes an entirely new bill with only five days left of session — knowing full well there is not enough time to get it passed and sent to the Governor's desk — in a cynical attempt to appear serious about adequately funding school safety while blaming the House for its inaction,” Carmichael said.

Passing either proposal may be hard as relationships between the upper and lower chambers remain sour after the House nixed school vouchers, a priority for both the Senate and Abbott, from its latest education spending bill.

If SB 5 becomes law, new school safety investments from the state since last year would reach about $2.5 billion, Huffman said.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/12/01/texas-senate-special-session-school-safety/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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