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Texas Senate
May 11, 2023
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(AUSTIN) — The Senate Education Committee on Thursday considered a bill that combines provisions from the House's two major school safety bills with SB 11, the Senate's school safety plan passed in April. This comprehensive bill was presented in the form of HB3, sponsored by SB 11 author and Jacksonville Senator Robert Nichols. "It is very extensive and wide-ranging," he said of the hybrid proposal. "It has many components that altogether, I believe, will improve the safety environment of schools in our state."

PHOTO: Senator Robert Nichols of Jacksonville says his comprehensive school safety and security bill takes the best parts of House and Senate proposals.

Senator Robert Nichols of Jacksonville says his comprehensive school safety and security bill takes the best parts of House and Senate proposals.

Like SB 11, the bill still calls for the creation of an office of school safety and security at the Texas Education Agency, which will develop and promulgate safety protocols for districts to follow, centralizing authority over individual school safety plans in the state agency. It still requires annual inspections of each campus to ensure compliance, and allows the state to send in an conservator to manage only school safety issues in the event of repeated non-compliance. One major change is to the structure of the additional allotment for school safety. The plan in the Senate called for a sliding scale that gave districts block grants for campuses, up to $16,800 for the largest schools. HB 3 will include a hybrid between the two chambers' plans, giving each district $10 per student to spend on school safety but sets a minimum of $15,000 per campus. Other provisions from the House legislation include requirements for sheriffs in larger counties to hold regular meetings among all regional law enforcement agencies to consider issues of school safety, and audit existing school building standards every five years. It also requires that any district out of compliance with state school safety regulations spend any bond proceeds to meet those standards before they can spend them on other needs.

Nichols said that school safety was the number one concern among the more than 100 district superintendents he represents in his largely rural east Texas district. Despite the pressing nature of the issue, Nichols said these administrators told him they just didn't have enough money to pay for needed security upgrades. "They were reaching into their reserves and contingency money to buy safety stuff, they were issuing bonds," said Nichols. "So I'm thrilled that we have put another $600 million out there." Senator José Menéndez, who represents a mostly urban district in San Antonio, said his administrators are facing the same problems. He supports putting even more state surplus money into school safety as traditional measures to fund local school issues become harder to implement. "I had a school district lose a bond safety election," he said. "When times are tough, and inflation's hard, and you're paying more for gas and eggs and bread and stuff and you go and it says at the bottom 'this constitutes a property tax increase, it makes it hard."

Nichols acknowledged that there's still work to be done on the proposal, with potential floor amendments offered by the Senate, but with such significant differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, members will likely end up in a conference committee that develops a final school safety proposal. One major difference will be the amount allotted per student to spend on school safety costs. While the House bill came out of committee with the same $10 allotment present in the Senate version presented Thursday, representatives voted for a floor amendment that set it at $100, a significant increase to the cost of the bill. "It's a variation of about a billion dollars," said Nichols. "And it's not a one-time expenditure necessarily…you would be looking at a billion dollars every budget cycle." The final allotment amount will likely be a key contention in negotiations over the final bill.

Whatever shape the end product takes, Nichols said the Legislature must deliver on parents' demands for safer schools. "The moms and the dads, the number one most precious thing they have are those children," he said. "They want to know their schools are safe."

The Senate will reconvene Friday, May 12 at 10 a.m.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.