AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan wrote a letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Monday to pitch redirecting more than $100 million of state funds to bolster mental health and school safety resources prior to when students return to the classroom in the fall.
Phelan’s plan came in response to a $50 million request from Patrick, who presides over the Senate, to immediately purchase bulletproof shields for school police departments. Phelan told Patrick in his letter that he thinks that is a “worthwhile goal” and fully supports that measure.
“Like you, I believe our respective chambers have the obligation to take immediate, concrete action with the goal of making our schools as safe as possible before the start of the upcoming school year,” Phelan wrote in a letter. “I also believe our state is best served by a multi-faceted response — one that includes strategies to improve mental health outcomes and strengthen school security for students and teachers.”
Two weeks ago, Patrick suggested allocating funds toward bullet proof shields for law enforcement, which he says could have helped police respond more quickly to the 18-year-old Uvalde gunman. He killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary on May 24, making it the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
Multiple federal and state investigations into the shooting aim to answer whether police officers’ delay in entering the classrooms could have prevented 19 children and two teachers from getting life-saving care. Uvalde CISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo told the Texas Tribune that he called for tactical gear, a sniper and keys to get inside, which held him back for 40 minutes to avoid provoking the gunman further.
“While the Texas Legislature has made significant strides in recent sessions to improve school safety, the senseless act of violence that occurred at Robb Elementary in Uvalde has made it clear that there is more to be done,” Phelan said.
The Legislature only meets every other year, so the state’s budget is allocated on a two-year basis. Lawmakers are not set to return to session until January, meaning lawmakers will have to redirect already appropriated money to another source.
School safety proposals
- $7 million to the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) to providing the materials and training to all active-duty law enforcement annually. Phelan said priority should be given to active school resource officers to receive training immediately.
- $7 million to the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) for adequate resources to review every school district’s emergency operation plan. On June 1, Gov. Greg Abbott directed TxSSC to do such reviews.
- $18.7 million for school districts to purchase silent panic alert technology, which connects directly to law enforcement for real-time coordination between first responders and law enforcement.
Mental health proposals
- $37.5 million in additional yearly funding to the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) program, which provides telemedicine services for schools to help identify and assess children with behavioral needs and connect them to proper care. TCHATT is under the umbrella of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, which was created in 2019 in the year following a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. The state’s current yearly $25 million funding for the program serves 40% of the state. Uvalde is not included currently.
- $10.6 million to create “pediatric stabilization and response teams” to give families and children access to crisis intervention. The teams will be designed to respond to mental health crises immediately and provide a bridge for ongoing care. Phelan is calling for six full and six half teams, which will have a startup cost of $3 million.
- $575,000 in yearly funding per team for “multisystemic therapy” teams, which offer intervention aimed at reducing the risk of violence. There are currently seven teams in the state, but Phelan estimates 140 teams are required to meet the statewide need. Each team would also require a $100,000 cost for first-year training.
- $950,000 in yearly funding for two additional “coordinated specialty care” teams, including one in the Uvalde area, that treat youth experiencing a first episode of psychosis, which is linked with an increased likelihood of committing suicide if untreated.
- $30 million per year to expand the number of pediatric mental health beds in hospitals across the state.
Phelan’s request would also have to get the stamp of approval from the Senate, under Patrick’s leadership, as well as heads of budgeting committees.
In a statement, Gov. Gregg Abbott commended both Phelan and Patrick for “quickly offering proposals that can immediately make schools safer, provide needed mental health support, and help our law enforcement officers on the front lines.”
“This is a great start to delivering not only on the needs of the Uvalde community, but for schools and communities across Texas,” Abbott said. “I look forward to working with them and the entire Texas legislature on these solutions and more to make our schools and communities safer for all Texans.”
Jamarr Brown, Co-Executive Director of the Texas Democratic Party, told KXAN he feels the proposals do not address the root problem.
“We do need to expand [mental health] services; we do need to make sure that our school buildings are safe,” Brown said. “But this doesn’t get to the real issue that is at hand here — we’re talking about guns.”
Brown’s sentiment was echoed by Ken Zarifis with Education Austin, the union that represents Austin area teachers and school staff.
“This does nothing to stop guns from getting in the hands of an 18-year-old a week after his birthday and going out and shooting kids,” Zarifis said, adding, “It’s not enough. Not even close.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include statements from Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas Democratic Party, and Education Austin.