State officials announced $105.5 million for school safety and mental health initiatives, more than a month after a shooter entered a Uvalde elementary school and killed 19 children and two teachers on May 24.
The funding will support school safety and mental health initiatives through Aug. 31, 2023.
The announcement is in line with Republicans' call to focus on mental health and "school hardening" — equipping schools to prevent would-be shooters from entering— rather than legislation limiting access to guns or ammunition.
What does the Texas school safety bill include?
Nearly half of $100.5 million for education-related expenses will pay for bullet-resistant shields for law enforcement:
$50 million on bullet-resistant shields.
$17.1 million for school districts to purchase silent panic alert technology.
$7 million to the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University for on-site campus assessments for safety and campus access, and $3 million to offset travel expenses for local law enforcement agencies to attend training. Abbott already has directed the center to provide strategies for public school safety and instruct districts.
$5.8 million to expand the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine program statewide. The program serves approximately 40% of the student population in Texas. A spokesperson for the Texas Child Mental Health Consortium said the goal would be to expand the program by partnering with any schools and districts that want the program's services. Funding would go toward hiring new staff for this expansion.
$5 million to the Texas Department of Public Safety to expand fusion center research and capabilities.
$4.7 million to the Health and Human Services Commission to increase multisystemic therapy statewide. Multisystemic therapy is short-term therapy for youth in the juvenile justice system who have behavioral health diagnoses.
$950,000 to Health and Human Services to expand the Coordinated Specialty Care program statewide. The program provides outpatient behavioral health services for people ages 15 to 30 who are experiencing an early onset of psychosis. The program currently covers 153 Texas counties.
The order by Gov. Greg Abbott indicates the bullet-resistant shields would be distributed to school district police officers, district-contracted officers and other law enforcement officers who might respond to school safety emergencies.
Ty Bishop, a press officer for Texas Health and Human Services, said the multisystemic therapy program, currently offered in El Paso and Harris counties, may add personnel, training, consultation or supervision. The program also could expand to other local mental health authorities with the additional state funding.
Funding approved for mental health services in Uvalde
State leadership also approved a maximum $5 million for the Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Centers to evaluate mental health services in Uvalde and prepare an assessment on the community's needs for the Legislature.
The $100.5 million comes from appropriations made to the Texas Education Agency, while $5 million directed to the Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Centers comes from appropriations made to the Health and Human Services Commission. The education funding is available because of a budget surplus and won't affect current school operations or funding, officials said.
Abbott previously announced an initial $5 million to establish a long-term Family Resiliency Center in Uvalde County for mental health resources.
The Tuesday announcement came from Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, Senate Finance Committee Chair Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and House Appropriations Chair Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood.
"In the upcoming session, we will build on the $100 million we appropriated in 2019 after the Santa Fe (high school shooting) tragedy, for these issues, and more," Patrick said in the press release.
With Patrick, Phelan also affirmed the House's commitment to look at school safety in the upcoming session, while Huffman said it would be prioritized in the next budget cycle.
This is not the first round of funding for school safety. The Legislature in 2019 directed $100 million in the form of grants for safety measures such as metal detectors at school entrances, vehicle barriers and security systems that monitor school entrances and hallways.
Ovidia Molina, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, said in response to the funding announcement that gun control is needed to address gun violence in schools.
“The $105.5 million for school safety measures amounts to about $100,000 dollars per district when divided equally among the 1,000 plus school districts in Texas and half of these funds are supposed to be used for the purchase of body shields for school law enforcement," Molina said in an emailed statement from the association spokesperson. "These funds will run out fast and will do nothing to keep guns out of the hands of people who intend to harm our students and educators on school campuses."
Contact Nusaiba Mizan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @nusaiblah.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas announces $105.5 million for school safety, mental health