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Texas Senate Approves $800 Million School Safety Bill Amid Ongoing Special Legislative Session

In the midst of the fourth special legislative session of the year, Texas lawmakers are addressing school safety concerns, with the Senate unanimously passing Senate Bill 5 on December 1. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick noted the unusual December session, emphasizing the nine months lawmakers have spent at the Capitol this year.

Authored by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, SB 5 aims to allocate $800 million for school safety funding, emphasizing a grant program to aid school districts in hiring armed guards. This move comes after months of Republican-led debates on various issues, including property tax cuts, border security, private school vouchers, and public school funding.

While SB 5 awaits its fate in the Texas House, which already passed its school safety proposal, House Bill 2, on November 17, uncertainties loom over the legislative landscape. HB 2 proposes two new school safety grants totaling nearly $1.3 billion annually and seeks voter approval in a future election.

Sen. Huffman underscores SB 5’s commitment to enhancing school safety, creating a grant program to assist public school districts and charter schools in meeting the requirements set by HB 3, a law from the regular legislative session. HB 3 mandates schools to have at least one armed security officer on campus during regular school hours and went into effect on September 1. Some schools have sought exemptions, citing financial constraints in hiring new law enforcement officers.

SB 5 specifically allocates $400 million for schools to hire armed officers during the 2024-25 biennium, with provisions for future reallocation of funds. Additionally, the bill proposes doubling the state funding requirement for schools, providing each campus with a $30,000 allotment and $20 per student, incurring an estimated cost of an additional $400 million.

Huffman characterizes the proposal as an “immediate response to the needs of our school districts.” As both legislative chambers are scheduled to convene next week, questions remain about the potential for a fifth special session, with Governor Greg Abbott yet to confirm additional sessions to address school safety and other education matters.