As students return to school this month, superintendents from Northside and Judson independent school districts say the state has failed to help them do anything to prevent tragedies like the shooting at an Uvalde elementary school in May that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
The state’s Republican leaders declined requests to call a special session to address the issue this summer, but in June rolled out a plan to spend $100 million on school safety measures such as bullet-resistant shields and mental health services.
Speaking at a school safety summit at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Buena Vista Theater on Saturday, Judson Superintendent Jeanette Ball and Northside Superintendent Brian Woods said they had yet to see any of that money, even though students in their districts begin class later this month.
“I have heard about these funds to buy shields and things like that, but I know that we have not received anything yet,” said Ball.
Woods said Northside ISD had received some federal pandemic assistance since the end of the last school year, but nothing from the state, which said it plans to pull roughly $105.5 million for school safety from its budget surplus at the Texas Education Agency.
Up until the Uvalde shooting, Woods said, “What we’d heard from leadership at state is, ‘You’ve got more than enough federal money, you don’t need more.'”
Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on when schools could expect to see the money.
When the plan was unveiled in June, Abbott said the state was “acting swiftly to ensure our schools are secure and that children, teachers, and families across Texas have the support and resources they need to be safe as we work to prevent future tragedies like the heinous crime committed in Uvalde.”
Saturday’s summit was organized by state Reps. Trey Martinez-Fischer, Diego Bernal, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Ray Lopez and Liz Campos. Rep. Lyle Larson, the lone Republican to participate, was represented at the gathering by his chief of staff.
On a panel hosted by Bernal, Ball and Woods each took aim at the Republican-controlled legislature, which they said hurt their efforts to make schools safer even before Uvalde.
Judson ISD failed to pass a proposed $302.5 million bond last year, delaying many improvements aimed at safety, Ball said. She blamed the Legislature for making it harder to pass bond elections to pay for safety measures by requiring wording on the ballot that says a bond could result in a tax increase.
“The fencing that we needed, the infrastructure for the technology that was needed for cameras, all those things, that was part of our bond,” said Ball, who noted that the school board will discuss this week whether to pursue another proposal.
Next year’s session could be a mixed bag for efforts to better fund school safety.
In the wake of Uvalde, members of both parties have expressed a desire to use some of the state’s estimated $27 billion surplus to address the issue. At the same time, Abbott has thrown his weight behind a school voucher plan that public school advocates say will siphon off public dollars to private schools.
“I try to explain to folks all the time … teacher salaries, additional teachers in your growing district, additional counselors, additional mental health support, all of those things come out of the same pot of money,” said Woods, whose district serves more than 100,000 students.
Both lawmakers and educators at Saturday’s summit acknowledged they have limited leverage to influence policy in a state controlled by Republicans.
“If you don’t like the policies in Austin, you need to vote,” said Woods, who has spent years trying to coordinate education leaders on their policy agenda.
Leading a second panel on the topic of school safety, Gervin-Hawkins sought input from some allies she hoped might have better luck influencing GOP leaders.
Gervin-Hawkins asked law enforcement leaders from the Alamo Heights, Edgewood and San Antonio ISDs to talk about their work combating mental health issues with students and to describe how they thought school safety money would be best spent in their districts.
“We would [use] some money to get some reactive equipment so that we would be able to go in there and neutralize a threat,” said Edgewood ISD Police Chief Jesse Quiroga. “But I would like to take the rest of the funds and fortify our schools and conduct prevention.”
Roughly half of the money the governor promised for school safety is aimed at providing bullet-resistant shields. Another large portion is designated for silent panic alert technology, while smaller portions are to go toward mental health efforts like telemedicine.
Gervin-Hawkins asked the law enforcement officials to create a list of their top needs that she could point to when school safety funding is discussed next session.
“As legislators, we need your help in terms of helping folks understand it’s not just about shields,” said Gervin-Hawkins.