AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Senate Education Committee on Thursday removed key provisions and nearly a billion dollars from House Bill 3, one of the legislature’s sweeping school safety bills.
The Senate’s committee substitute spends about one-fourth of the House version on school safety. Citing concerns over the price tag, senators lowered the bill’s per-student school safety allotment from $100 to $10. The current school safety allotment is $9.72 per student in average daily attendance.
The House’s version would cost the state nearly $1.3 billion over two years. The Senate’s substitute costs just about $328 million. Both versions also provide a base of $15,000 per campus for security upgrades.
State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, coauthored House Bill 3 and denounced the Senate’s changes.
“Students, parents, and teachers are all betting their lives on our commitment to school safety being more than political lip service,” he said in a statement to KXAN. “Without the money for the security we’ve been talking about, that’s all the Senate proposal is. Budgets are moral documents, and this is flatly immoral.”
Some Central Texas superintendents are concerned even the billion-dollar plan will not fund all of the bill’s requirements.
“There are a number of unfunded mandates that we have to respond to in public education. So this would be one more,” Eanes ISD Superintendent Jeff Arnett said. “I don’t think that there is sufficient money in the proposed legislation that we’ve seen that would totally offset that cost to us. So it’s an expense that we would have to bear as a school district within our budget.”
Manor ISD worries the $100 school safety allotment would leave them significant costs to pay on their own. That allotment would amount to about $900,000 to fulfill the legislation’s infrastructure and technology requirements. The $10 allotment would provide just $90,000.
“[That] sounds like a tremendous boon to the district until you begin to price the amount for the fencing,” Manor ISD Superintendent Robert Sormani said. “There’s some significant costs to it, for example, just putting the fence around main or high school could potentially cost up to $500,000 alone. And that’s just one campus… I would ask the legislature to really look at the real costs of this bill, because certainly those costs are going to have to be paid, passed on to the taxpayers through our maintenance and operation budget.”
The Senate substitute also removes the House provision that would require every K-12 public school campus in Texas to have armed security. The Senate bill allows schools to use the funds to provide training for staff to carry a firearm on campus, but does not mention armed security guards.
The Senate passed its own school safety legislation under Senate Bill 11. That bill also provides for a $10 school safety allotment and base funding of $15,000 per campus. It also creates the Office of School Safety and Security within the Texas Education Agency to monitor school districts’ security protocols and gives TEA clear authority for oversight and enforcement of compliance.
House Bill 3 passed the Senate as amended on Sunday. The House can either accept the changes or enter into a conference committee to compromise.
House Speaker Dade Phelan said he expects the chambers to come to an agreement this week.
“The Texas House has passed multiple pieces of legislation this session to keep our kids safe in schools, from devoting more resources to mental and behavioral health to investing more dollars into campuses for school security measures,” he said in a statement to Nexstar. “I am confident that the two chambers of this Legislature will find common ground on some of these much-needed proposals and send them to the governor’s desk in the coming days.”
The 88th regular session ends at noon on Monday, May 29.