Texas Superintendents Warn of Potential Budget Cuts Due to Insufficient School Safety Funding

Public school administrators were well aware that the Texas House’s vote to block a school voucher program last month would likely result in no additional funds for teacher raises and inflation adjustments this year. Governor Greg Abbott had previously threatened to veto any education funding bill that did not include a voucher component.

However, administrators were taken aback and disappointed when proposals that would have provided additional funds for school safety — a priority for many lawmakers following the Uvalde school shooting — also fell apart.

The fourth special legislative session ended without voting on separate House and Senate bills that aimed to increase school safety funding — bills introduced after numerous school districts throughout the state expressed concerns about not having enough funds to meet the new safety requirements passed earlier this year.

With many districts already operating with deficit budgets, superintendents across the state now say they will have to make significant budget cuts in order to comply with the new safety mandates.

“Regardless of whether we’re rural, urban, large, small, or suburban, when we superintendents get together and chat, all of us are wondering, ‘Where are we going to get the necessary funds? What will you have to cut?’” said Stephanie Elizalde, Superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District. She added that her district may have to eliminate extracurricular activities, field trips, and transportation for students in magnet schools, as well as lay off teachers and increase class sizes.

House Bill 3, which was approved by the Texas Legislature in response to the Uvalde shooting, requires districts to have an armed security guard at every school and provide mental health training to certain employees. In order to fund these measures, the law allocated $15,000 per campus and $10 per student to school districts, as well as $1.1 billion to the Texas Education Agency for grants that schools can apply for. In 2022, lawmakers also approved $400 million to help school districts cover safety upgrades.

Last month, the House proposed a bill that would have increased that funding by $1.3 billion. The Senate also introduced its own $800 million school safety bill, which would have raised the funding for safety upgrades and provided the TEA with an additional $400 million for its grant program. However, neither bill made it to a vote in the opposite chamber.

Elizalde stated that the Dallas ISD went into a $186 million deficit this year to cover costs, including the implementation of the new security measures required by HB 3. While the district recently received a grant of over $20 million from the TEA, Elizalde explained that this one-time grant is not sufficient to sustain the security mandates in the long term.

According to Elizalde, the district needs approximately $3 million annually to have trained security guards at each of their more than 220 campuses. She stated that it’s not that school board members and leaders don’t want to meet these new expectations, but they simply lack the necessary funds to do so.

“That has become our biggest challenge – how do you continually make cuts to ensure that we have the safest schools possible?” Elizalde commented.

Challenges with Hiring Security Personnel

Elizalde noted that the Dallas ISD has chosen to hire trained security guards instead of licensed police officers due to a shortage of law enforcement officers and the lower cost of security guards.

However, even the cost of security guards is barely covered by the funding provided by HB 3, according to Temple ISD Superintendent Bobby Ott. Hiring security guards across the district’s 15 schools can cost up to $900,000, in addition to the $1.8 million needed for required infrastructure updates. While the district received $200,000 through HB 3 and $400,000 through the new grant program, the funding falls short.

“I’ve always said that House Bill 3 has really just passed on debt to school districts,” Ott stated.

The district can partially mitigate the costs of security guards by opting for the “guardian program” in HB 3, where teachers are trained to carry handguns in case of emergencies.

However, there have been long-standing objections to this approach, with critics saying it introduces more firearms into schools. Ott mentioned that his district does not support a guardian program because police officers are trained to eliminate risks, and if an officer is called to one of the schools during an emergency, there is a risk they may mistakenly target an armed teacher.

Ott commented that it is a “sad state of affairs” how lawmakers have approached school safety, especially considering Texas’ surplus budget this year.

“I agree with the safety requirements. They’re all fantastic, and they’re what schools need,” Ott said. “What I don’t agree with is sitting on the largest surplus that we’ve had in our economy [in Texas] and not providing funding to public schools.”

Obstacles with Grant-Based Funding

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