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By Dave Rogers
For The Record 

Phelan seeks 'immediate, concrete' school safety


Last updated 6/14/2022 at 7:28pm

Orange County's State Representative, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, proposed Monday that the state's highest elected officials should take "immediate, concrete action" to make Texas schools safer.

The price tag: more than $170 million reallocated from other budget spending pools to pay for mental health services and school safety improvements to be in place before schools reopen in late summer.

Phelan transmitted his proposal in a four-page letter to Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick dated June 13. It comes as the state continues to grieve after the May 24 shooting deaths of 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

"As Texans continue to mourn with the families and community of Uvalde, the Texas House has begun its work to both fully examine the circumstances surrounding this horrific tragedy and identify steps that can be taken to better ensure that such senseless acts of violence never occur in our state again," Phelan, the head of the Texas House of Representatives, wrote to Patrick, his counterpart atop the State Senate.

"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.

"Your recommendation to dedicate $50 million toward outfitting local school law enforcement with bulletproof shields is a worthwhile goal to that end, and you have my full support in that endeavor."

Bulletproof shields were not available to first responders in Uvalde, who faced gunfire from an AR-15 assault rifle wielded by an 18-year-old.

Patrick announced last week that he was seeking Phelan's approval for a $50 million budget transfer to purchase the shields for school police departments.

Because the Legislature, which sets the state's two-year budget, is not scheduled to meet again before January, Texas has a provision that emergency budget transfers may be made with the approval of the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the House Speaker and the chairs of both the Senate and House Finance Committees.

Phelan, a four-term Republican who faces no opposition in November's election, wrote to Patrick, "I believe our state is best served by a multi-faceted response that includes strategies to improve mental health outcomes and strengthen school security for students and teachers, which our chambers have worked in stride to improve and enhance for multiple sessions."

In addition to backing Patrick's plan for shields, Phelan's proposals include eight points to address school safety and mental health.

He told Patrick they "are several additional actions I believe we can reasonably take before the start of school this fall, and I urge your consideration and support of these efforts."

 $7 million to provide active shooter training to all active-duty licensed peace officers each three years, with priority given all school resource officers.

 $7 million to provide funding for the Texas School Safety Center to ensure every school district's School Safety and Security Committee has reviewed their emergency operations plan and trained every district's School Behavioral Threat Assessment Team.

 Provide $18.7 million funding for the state's nearly 9,350 school campuses to purchase silent panic alert technology.

 $37.5 million a year to expand telehealth services to public school students who need mental health treatment.

 $30 million to increase inpatient capacity at Texas hospitals, to allow them to take in more children who need mental health or support.

 $10.5 million a year, plus $3 million in start-up costs, to create Pediatric Crisis Stabilization and Response Teams in every region of the state.

 $13.5 million a year for increasing the number of multisystemic intervention therapy teams in the state to grow the state's current seven-team program 20 times to meet the need to reduce the risk of violence by 75 percent. Phelan said this cost could be offset by adding it as a Medicaid benefit.

 $900,000 per year to add two Coordinated Specialty Care teams across the state to treat youth experiencing a first episode of psychosis.

Phelan's letter, a copy of which he forwarded to Gov. Greg Abbott, explained his proposals could be funded using surplus appropriations to the Foundation School Program, which is the main source of funding for Texas Schools.

He said that surplus "will be more than sufficient to cover the cost of all these actions and will not impact funding for any school district in the process."

Phelan expects a busy 2023 dedicated to safeguarding Texans, he told Patrick.

"The coming year will bring many debates and policy discussions about how our state approaches the issues of school safety, mental health, police training, firearm safety and more," he stated.

"I look forward to working with you in this important mission to make Texas a safer place," he told Patrick.

Phelan closed by saying he hoped "our chambers can come together earnestly to do what is right for the State of Texas and the community of Uvalde, beginning with the initiatives that you and I have now proposed."


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