Gov. Greg Abbott has a school safety plan. Now what? More specifically, how is he going to pay for it? Or maybe more to the point, who is going to pay for it?
So far, Abbott has identified about $110 million, including federal funds. But his proposals, if adopted and carried out to any meaningful degree, will cost billions, a very pricey proposition for a governor who has been tight-fisted about education spending.
Here are a few of the big ticket items:
# Improving the infrastructure and design of Texas schools to reduce security threats. Texas has more than 8,700 school campuses. Not all of them will be redesigned or “hardened,” as the security people say, but if the governor’s plan is carried out, many will be, and some may get metal detectors at several thousand dollars apiece. This item alone could easily cost many times the $110 million the governor has identified.
# Hiring more professionally trained school security guards, a worthwhile, but recurring expense that many school districts and local taxpayers may not be able to afford.
# Hiring more school counselors to improve school mental health services and identify students who may pose a danger to themselves and others. This idea also can save lives, but thousands of additional counselors are needed across Texas, and, like the security guards, they will have to be paid and receive benefits every year, year in and year out.
There are other costs, including training costs that would be associated with the governor’s proposed expansion of the school marshal program to arm more teachers and school employees, which TSTA opposes.
Twenty of the governor’s proposals, half of the 40 pieces of his plan, will require funding, according to an analysis by the Texas House Democratic Caucus. And so far the governor hasn’t identified a funding source for 13 of those 20.
Phillip Martin, the caucus’ executive director, also pointed out that most of the funding the governor has proposed, $62.1 million, comes from federal grants for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program. Congress appropriated some of this money for school safety but also intended for some of the funding to pay for STEM education for girls, minority students and low-income kids.
Abbott needs to begin making plans now for the Legislature to raise substantial amounts of state funding to carry out his plan. School districts and local taxpayers alone simply cannot afford the cost associated with it, partly because the governor and his legislative allies have persisted for years in under-funding public education.
Part of the Rainy Day Fund, the state’s multi-billion-dollar savings account, can be used to help school districts improve the security of their facilities. The Rainy Day Fund is taxpayer money, and Abbott needs to quit hoarding it.
For the longer term, the governor needs to insist that the School Finance Commission come up with an improved, adequate school funding system, not only to improve school security but also to improve learning opportunities for all of Texas’ school kids. And if he is still in office in January, he needs to demand that the Legislature enact it.
Otherwise, the school safety plan will amount to little more than playing politics in an election year.