South Carolina Governor Unveils $40 Million Budget for School Safety Priorities

Gov. Henry McMaster is urging lawmakers to allocate approximately $40 million next year for safety enhancements, additional officers, and emergency response technology in K-12 schools.

During a ceremony at the former Gilbert Elementary School, McMaster revealed his school safety priorities, including the establishment of a training center where law enforcement, teachers, bus drivers, and other school staff can practice responding to an active shooter. The center, overseen by the State Law Enforcement Division, was made possible by a law enacted six months ago.

“(Children) have to not only be safe, they have to know they’re safe,” McMaster emphasized, highlighting the importance of creating an environment where students feel secure and can focus on learning.

A second round of safety grants?

In his budget recommendations for 2024-25, McMaster plans to allocate $20 million for school safety upgrades, such as internal door locks, bulletproof glass, and security film for windows. This funding would mark the second year in a row that grants have been provided for these enhancements.

The current state budget allowed the Department of Education to use up to $20 million of the $120 million designated for K-12 school construction to fund safety upgrades. After receiving requests totaling $38 million, the agency awarded the full $20 million to more than 50 school districts, with amounts varying from under $3,000 to $1 million.

McMaster’s proposed $20 million aligns with the education agency’s own budget request for additional safety grants.

Mapping and officer recruitment

An additional $5 million is being sought for school mapping, which involves creating digital models to aid first responders in navigating school buildings during emergencies.

Furthermore, McMaster is requesting $13.4 million to hire 175 more officers in schools, aiming to fulfill his 2018 campaign pledge of assigning a certified officer to every school following the Florida high school shooting. Currently, 86% of South Carolina’s 1,284 public schools have a certified officer, with 431 of them funded by the state. McMaster’s proposal would extend coverage to the remaining schools.

State Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver emphasized the need to address both safety concerns and teacher salaries, as they are crucial for retaining educators. Her budget request includes $137 million to increase the minimum pay for teachers by $1,500.

The old Gilbert elementary school, now the Center for School Safety and Targeted Violence, has been used for law enforcement training since 2017. Mark Keel, Chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, noted that the facility, which will undergo upgrades, will be available for free training to any law enforcement agency in South Carolina, as well as educators, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, parents, and residents.

McMaster is set to release his complete budget recommendations for the upcoming fiscal year in the following month.