TEXAS VIEW: Abbott’s school safety plan depends on action

By The Facts (of Clute, Texas)

Gov. Greg Abbott deserves a lot of praise for developing such an in-depth proposal to better protect Texas school children less than two weeks after the deadly shooting spree at Santa Fe High School. While there are facets people will not agree with — inevitable with any broad government plan — the 40-point list touches on all the key elements experts have mentioned to combat school violence.

The most crucial part of Abbott’s package of initiatives, however, has little to do with him. After all, political leaders are great at putting together proposals and position papers that accomplish little more than to kill trees and take up bandwidth. Action by legislators and local officials is what will determine whether school children are safer in their classrooms.

It is encouraging that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and outgoing House Speaker Joe Strauss already are directing their chambers to consider some of the elements of Abbott’s plan that require legislative action. Hopefully, that will lead to strong measures that can be passed easily early in the next regular session in January — right after students return from winter break.

More encouraging, however, is that our local school leaders already have taken action on their campuses to better protect our kids. Many of Abbott’s proposals already are implemented or in the works at Brazosport Independent School District schools, and it should comfort Patrick to know local districts already limit the number of doors would-be shooters can enter through when classes are in session.

Local school leaders are quick to point out they could do more, and would like to, but lack the financial resources to carry them out. This applies to hiring more campus officers — be they district police or schools marshals — and more mental health professionals who could help diffuse potential tragedies before they happen. Both of those initiatives are in Abbott’s plans, though not fully funded.

No school districts currently have the resources to immediately aid a student in a mental health crisis, so having the funding to bring on counselors specifically for behavioral and emotional needs could have a positive impact on students, retiring Angleton ISD Superintendent Pat Montgomery said.

“Like everything, it’s going to cost money to do it correctly,” she said.

While Abbott’s pledge of $100 million in immediate funding for his plan seems like a lot, with more than 1,000 school districts and about 8,800 school campuses in Texas, including charters, that amounts to about $11,400 per school. That won’t go very far when attempting to harden a 50-year-old school building.

Even calls to arm teachers come with a price tag attached, with the state promising to pay for training and some leaders calling for bonuses and stipends for teachers who carry in the classroom.

It goes without saying state lawmakers do not have a stellar track record when it comes to paying for schools, with its share of per-student spending decreasing each session. Whether multiples school shootings in the state, combined with the unspeakable carnage in Parkland, Florida, get them to change their priorities remains to be seen. We join Montgomery in being skeptical, especially since the Legislature is expected to find a $7.9 billion funding hole when they hit Austin next year.

But without state leaders putting dollars behind their proposals, promises to better protect our school children will prove to be more empty promises.

Our hopes and prayers are that this time will be different so we don’t have to go through another Santa Fe, Sandy Hook or Parkland.