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Learn how to get funding for your Texas school security and safety initiatives with this free eBook!

You’ll learn about:

  • Changes to Texas School Safety Laws.
  • Safety and Security Initiative Planning.
  • School Safety and Security Grants.
  • Strategies for School Safety and Security Initiative Funding.
  • Funding for Proactive Positive Climate Initiatives.
  • Initiatives for Improving and Managing Mental Health.

School shootings have harshly revealed some of the many issues of modern schools. Administrators, districts, and legislators are all being held accountable for the safety of children on campuses across the US. In states that have had the need for improved safety initiatives drawn into sharp relief by recent events, the call for action is strong and immediate.

That’s what has happened in Texas. After the 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School, the public wanted their elected officials to take action. In 2019, the Texas House, Senate, and Governor Greg Abbott did so: the Texas legislature passed three separate laws to shore up the security of schools across Texas and help fund programs focused on mental health and prevention.

The new laws are clearly an attempt to balance Texas school funding between reactive, immediate measures and long-term, proactive ones. Some of the money allocated with the bill provides a per-student funding bump to help with forming threat assessment teams to identify at-risk students or escalating situations. A significant amount of the budget was explicitly earmarked for physical infrastructure improvements and security hardening initiatives. Even more funds were set aside for additional training for staff and faculty.

While many of these mandates are a move in the right direction, Texas schools shouldn’t stop working to implement strategies that reduce violence and crime among the student population. The challenge, however, is that many of the strategies shown to work are not the kinds of programs that the budget was intended for. To implement everything that may be needed—from immediate and reactive security measures to longer reaching, proven methods that reduce the overall risk and improve the learning environment—Texas schools and districts may need to explore a multitude of funding options and opportunities.

Recent Changes to Texas School Safety Laws

In summer 2019, Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott, signed Senate Bill 11 (SB 11), House Bill 18 (HB 18), and House Bill 1387 (HB 1387) into law, as well as fourteen others. Each of these bills was introduced following the shooting at Santa Fe High School, where a student opened fire on May 18, 2018. Ten people were killed in the attack—eight students and two teachers—and another thirteen were wounded.

Governor Abbott made improving school safety an emergency item for consideration during the state’s Eighty-Sixth Legislative Session. Of the seventeen laws passed at that time, SB 11, HB 18, and HB 1387 have had the most sweeping changes associated with them, with each addressing safety and security for students and staff in Texas schools.

House Bill 1387 is, in some ways, the most controversial of the three otherwise bi-partisan bills. The law redefines the number of school marshals allowed on campuses for public, private, and charter schools. The school marshal program enables teachers, administrators, and staff to receive training to act and intervene during an active shooter or other violent situation.

School marshals are permitted to carry a concealed weapon on campus, and the identity of the marshals in a school is not made public. HB 1387 increases the maximum number of allowed school marshals to one per campus building, or one per 100 students, whichever is greater. Previously, each school was only permitted one marshal per 200 students.

Senate Bill 11 is a sweeping bill focused primarily on preparedness and response and sets new standards for school facilities in regards to safety and security. As part of the bill, approximately $10 per student per school is allocated to improve physical infrastructure, security hardening, security personnel and safety training, and collaborative planning with local law enforcement. It also provides guidelines for creating threat assessment teams to intervene and alert officials when a student’s actions create the concern that they may become violent to themselves or others.

Perhaps most importantly in the bill, it established the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium. This consortium combines the knowledge and expertise of thirteen universities, as well as the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and designated nonprofit organizations with the purpose of addressing mental health care for children and adolescents and the mental health challenges that this group faces. Focusing on at-risk teens and children, the bill establishes a network of psychiatric access at the consortium’s participating universities and improves and expands assessment and access to mental health care services through telemedicine and telehealth programs.

While SB 11 includes programs for mental health services, House Bill 18 is specifically targeted at this area of need. The bill places importance on mental health training for staff and educators and on mental health education for students. Under HB 18, educators and staff are given access to training for early identification and intervention for youth in need of mental health and behavioral support services and improves access to mental health professionals, including substance abuse. Additionally, the bill enables schools and districts to hire dedicated mental health professionals.

These bills, as well as the other fourteen focused on school safety that were passed in 2019, are much-needed interventions. According to a report from the Educator’s School Safety Network, data from 2017-2018 showed Texas as ranking fourth in the country in the number of incidents of school violence and seventh in the number of threats, with California topping the list in both categories.

Actions taken by Texas legislators include the development of a report on improving school safety in the state. Published at the end of August 2019, the report identifies the need for significant improvements in three key areas that these bills were meant to address: agency response, physical security and campus hardening, and preventing threats, including the mental health initiatives outlined in HB 18 and SB 11.

However, the allocated funding for Texas school safety initiatives may leave some schools without the ability to fund programs to truly change the school climate. While $339 million was allocated for 2018 to 2021, much of that funding is to support programs like the Child Mental Health Care Consortium and its partners. One hundred million dollars was earmarked for schools for the initiatives outlined in SB 11, but those initiatives focus on facility improvements, security training, and personnel, like peace officers.

While some of that money is intended for violence prevention and the identification of at-risk students with the addition of counselors, schools looking to do more may find themselves in need of outside funding to implement proven, long-term strategies. Furthermore, schools with the greatest need for improvement may need more funding than the state is providing. The good news is that funding exists for nearly every facet of safety improvements, including broader school climate and individual support for student behavior and positive outcomes.

Safety and Security Initiative Planning

As districts and school administrators in Texas begin to plan for safety and security improvements, it’s important to take a more comprehensive view of what constitutes school safety. While many educators immediately think of physical security measures, preventative measures have been shown to be far more effective in creating a safe learning environment.

Preventative measures can take many forms. When administrators begin to view school violence through a holistic lens that incorporates a multitude of factors and early warning signs that point to a growing or existing problem, the range of initiatives clearly spans from creating positive and supportive learning environments to addressing potential threats when they arise but before they are carried out.

This means that educators must consider every aspect of a student’s experience, from classroom management and teaching frameworks to school climate, student behavior, attendance tracking, and early initiation of support. Each of these can be an indicator of a potential concern, and applying resources to these areas can have an impressive impact on student experience and safety.

Strategies for School Safety and Security Initiative Funding

For schools looking for additional money to support physical security improvements or seeking help with resources to add long-term, proactive initiatives that lead to a safer school, there are programs that can help them shore up the funding allocated by the state. To take advantage of these funding opportunities, however, administrators should stay up to date on current legislation and new technology.

School Safety and Security Grants

As noted, physical infrastructure improvements and campus security hardening make up a significant amount of the funding associated with Texas SB 11. Things like bullet-proof glass, secure door access, and communication improvements were outlined in the bill. In all, Texas allocated $100 million for school safety. However, applications for funding from that allocation were due in January 2020.

Schools have other options, however, when it comes to getting money for campus security initiatives. Federal grants are available, like those provided as part of the Department of Justice’s School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP). The program, funded through Congress and authorized to provide $33 million in grant assistance annually, gave out ninety-one grants in fiscal 2018. The projects that received awards included security camera installation, communications technology, and visitor management systems. The SVPP program is just one of the many grant programs that exist for hardening initiatives and physical security projects.

Funding for Proactive Positive Climate Initiatives

Physical infrastructure improvements are meant to deter an attack in the moment or prevent/lessen injury and loss of life during an incident. However, improving the day-to-day school environment is an effective strategy for not only curbing large scale incidents but also reducing the kind of issues and behaviors that culminate in violence and delinquency. As a side benefit, these kinds of programs enhance the student experience and improve outcomes as well.

One such strategy is implementing a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) program. SEL supports students within the school environment and sets them up for success later in life. There are several Texas school funding options available to superintendents and principals interested in implementing the SEL framework.

One such strategy is implementing a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) program. SEL supports students within the school environment and sets them up for success later in life. There are several Texas school funding options available to superintendents and principals interested in implementing the SEL framework.

While some states, like California, are funding the implementation of SEL programs within their schools, the Texas school safety initiatives and budget allocations do not specifically fund this kind of program. Because SEL and programs like it are proven ways to create a positive school climate, to target and help students with greater emotional needs, and to improve school safety, searching out funding options for adding an SEL program is worth it.

One potential source of funding for SEL implementation is the SEL Innovation Fund. Established in 2016, the fund has provided more than $4 million to educators looking to create positive learning environments.

Initiatives for Improving and Managing Mental Health

The Texas bills focused on school safety recognize the need for greater awareness, support, management, and intervention for mental health issues, including substance abuse. Addressing mental health needs is a crucial element in curbing school violence, and the right programs can even prevent violence and delinquency.

Senate Bill 11 requires the establishment of threat assessment teams at the school level. These exist to recognize and prevent violent incidents. They know the difference between a bad joke and a credible threat and when students are showing signs of imminent violence to themselves or others. They’re also trained on intervention techniques and ways to initiate services for students with mental health issues.

School safety and mental health are more closely linked than violence or threats. The overall school climate and environment can be impacted by students with behavioral issues or those with substance abuse problems.

When a student acts out in class, it does more than simply disrupt a lesson. Other students develop a sense of fear, and an educator’s focus can be diverted from teaching to managing a student’s outbursts or disobedience. While the occasional behavior issue may be an abnormality, repeated or escalating issues may be warning signs. Early acknowledgment and intervention improve the classroom environment and get students with more significant support needs the assistance they need to be productive and address potential mental health issues.

For students with substance abuse problems, what starts as skipped classes, verbal disrespect, or bad grades can escalate into crime and violence. A pervasive climate of drug and alcohol abuse in schools goes hand-in-hand with a frightened student body and poor academic performance from the entire school community. Drugs and alcohol can also invite more dangerous elements into a school, like gangs.

Perceiving an issue with a student is critical to heading off larger problems, regardless of the source. Tracking student behavior and initiating appropriate services, both in and out of school, requires the ability to recognize warning signs and act on them promptly.For schools in Texas that need more extensive mental health support than what is provided in HB 18 and SB 11, there are a number of sources for funding available, from private groups to federal grants.

Funding to Update Administrative Technology

Many of the preceding issues require better administrative tracking and reporting than most schools currently have. With the right data, educators and administrators can track, recognize, and address the precursors to school violence, like mental health issues, absenteeism, and behavioral problems.

Logging and understanding patterns in student behavior can help raise a red flag that a student needs additional support. Behavioral problems are rarely caused by a “bad egg,” but instead, primarily come about from stress, difficulty with materials, a need for an alternative learning environment, or problems at home or in the community.

Attendance can be another concerning behavior that points to a larger issue. Students with frequent or increasing absence records and those with attendance concerns, like skipping class, could be dealing with bullying or problems at home. The sooner that teachers and staff can identify a problem, the sooner they can get the student help.

With the demands on educators and administrators today, this tracking can be burdensome or inaccurate. Attendance tracking takes time away from lessons. Compiling data, reporting on it, and initiating support services takes time when done manually. All of this is better facilitated with appropriate technology. The right systems simplify tracking and accelerate awareness and communication of problems.

While there is not much in the way of funding for new systems, technology can help fund itself by proving its worth to districts and the community in the results that it provides. With the right tools, not only can schools improve security, but reporting on those improvements will prove that the implemented programs are making a difference. With proper measurement and analysis, schools can build on those improvements and make adjustments when and where they are needed.

Conclusion

The Texas laws enacted in 2019 concentrating on school safety and security have drawn attention to needs well beyond physical barriers and in-the-moment solutions. The challenge isn’t in understanding the end-to-end improvements that can be made that improve student experiences and encourage a safe learning environment—there are proven strategies that can be implemented to those ends. Instead, the challenge comes in expanding and adding on to those strategies. Initiatives that improve the overall school climate and the mental health and support systems must be included in conversations around safety and violence. These elements signal potential concerns and issues long before they become an incident.Concentrating on these proactive measures, however, means being creative in the way schools approach funding. Broadening their view, administrators can find funding for non-security-related initiatives and proven proactive programs that will, as a result, improve a school’s safety and reduce violence and delinquency. The key to success is backing these programs with the tracking and data that proves progress and allows for adjustments. Not only will that data keep a school on the right track, but it can result in more Texas school funding down the line as districts demonstrate their success in making the learning environment safer.

To learn how ScholarChip can help make Texas schools safer or get free recommendations, contact us for a free consultation!