Politics

Texas House Speaker proposes $100 million to address mental health, school safety

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan wrote a letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Monday to pitch redirecting more than $100 million in state funding to boost mental health and school safety programs before students return to school in the fall.

His proposal comes in response to a $50 million request from Patrick, who oversees the Senate, to immediately purchase bulletproof shields for school police departments. Phelan expressed his support for that purchase. Patrick believes the shields could have helped police officers more quickly confront the gunman in the Uvalde school shooting.

“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 said in the letter to Patrick. “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.”

“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.

Phelan said lawmakers will have the option to use surplus money in the Foundation School Program to cover the costs of the new programs without impacting the finances of any school district in the process. The program is the primary source of funding for all Texas schools and ensures all schools receive roughly the same amount of funding per student.

As reported by The Texas Tribune, Phelan’s request includes an estimated:

  • $37.5 million in additional yearly funding for the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine program, which helps schools identify and assess children with behavioral needs and gives them access to mental health services.
  • $10.5 million per year to create “pediatric crisis stabilization and response” teams across the state to give children and families access to crisis intervention.
  • $575,000 in yearly funding per team for “multisystemic therapy” teams, which offer intervention aimed at reducing the risk of violence.
  • $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.
  • $7 million to provide all law enforcement cadets and active law enforcement officers research-based active-shooter training developed by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University.
  • $7 million to ensure that the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University can provide all school districts in the state training on active-shooter response and a review of their response plans for these attacks.
  • $18.7 million for all of Texas’ public and charter schools to purchase panic alert technology, as legislatures in New Jersey and Florida have done.

The request must be approved by Phelan and Patrick, as well as Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) and Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), leaders of the budget-writing committees.

Because the governor has declared a disaster in Uvalde to address the shooting, Phelan’s office said lawmakers would not need a letter from the affected agencies declaring that they would not be negatively impacted by the money transfer. That step is usually needed when lawmakers want to use the budget execution procedure.

MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE

PHOTO CREDITS: DALLAS NEWS

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