Texas Senate passes school security legislation

Texas lawmakers are advancing school safety and security measures in both chambers of the Legislature, with the Senate’s priority bill passing unanimously on Wednesday.

School security is a priority issue for policymakers on both sides of the aisle and the Capitol in the wake of mass shootings in public schools across the state, including Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School in 2022 and Sante Fe High School in 2018.

Senate Bill (SB) 11 by Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) works by first appropriating increased funding to provide for enhanced security measures at every campus across the state, establishing a floor of $15,000 per campus plus $10 per student per year.

Next, a statewide department deemed the Office of School Safety and Security would be created within the Texas Education Agency to “coordinate and monitor school district safety and security requirements” by creating guidelines for campus security and conducting audits to ensure districts comply with state requirements.

The bill also bolsters truancy laws, which were substantially weakened under legislation passed during the 84th Legislative Session. Under SB 11, truancy cases could be referred to court after six unexcused absences in eight weeks.

Lastly, the bill requires school districts as well as parents to share a student’s disciplinary file with any new school the student transfers to.

“Texans have been reminded far too often that evil exists and that we live in a broken world,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement released after the bill received final approval in the Senate.

“SB 11 is a top priority of mine and of all 31 Senators because it represents a blueprint for our schools to use to harden their facilities moving forward,” he said, adding, “This is the most robust school-based response framework that Texas has ever designed and is the product of a year’s worth of bipartisan committee research and planning.”

While the Senate’s school security measure is now in the Texas House, the House has two proposals of its own on the calendar for consideration on the floor early next week.

House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) allocates security funding to each campus, similar to SB 11. Additionally, Burrows’ bill also requires districts to ensure one armed security person is present during regular school hours, such as a police officer, school marshal, or teacher with a license to carry.

The bill also requires county sheriffs in certain counties to organize and hold semi-annual school security and preparedness meetings.

Another measure set to be taken up, HB 13 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), would require certain school employees to take mental health first aid training, provide funding for the armed school “Guardian” program, and require districts to maintain an emergency preparedness plan.