With plenty of justification, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and state legislators are cheering legislative accomplishments in school finance, including pay raises for our educators; full-day pre-kindergarten for the state’s most economically challenged students; and what lawmakers vow is significant property-tax relief (albeit not reduction). The true test of these efforts will come not only in how our schools perform in coming years but also in whether state leaders are true to commitments as rising costs going forward test the limits of tax-cut fervor.
Gov. Abbott also celebrated legislative efforts to forcefully bolster school safety, a particularly pressing issue after the shooting spree at Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018, in which eight students and two teachers were fatally shot and 13 others were wounded. Last Thursday the governor signed bills to improve school safety by expanding access to mental-health resources; strengthening emergency preparedness and response protocols; improving school-facility standards; and removing a cap on the number of school marshals that may be appointed per campus.
There was some concern about House Bill 18 which increases mental-health training for educators and other campus professionals to “aid in early identification and intervention” in school mental-health problems. The bill improves access to mental and behavior health services through school-based mental-health centers and provides for the hiring of mental-health professionals. Some feared the bill would usurp parental control and see busy teachers diagnosing their students, which the bill’s sponsors dismissed as nonsense. State Reps. Kyle Kacal and Charles Anderson voted for this bill; Sen. Brian Birdwell voted against it.
The roundtable discussions smartly convened by the governor in the wake of the Santa Fe tragedy raised the possibility of a more robust, Texas-styled “red-flag law,” complete with significant due-process protections, providing for court hearings to curtail gun access for anyone showing physical hostility toward others. After Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick signaled any red-flag bill was DOA in the Senate (over which he presides), Abbott backtracked on any effort that might have limited gun access to people showing what even the most conservative society might deem threatening behavior. We do look forward to seeing how “threat assessment teams” spawned by legislation work in gauging potential threats from students.
In his statement about school safety legislation, Gov. Abbott may well be right that these new laws “will do more than Texas has ever done to make our schools a safe place,” particularly in the realm of mental-health services for students. Nonetheless, as mass shootings continue to define the madness of our times and the failure of our political leadership to craft effective solutions in defiance of those who donate to their campaigns, we urge parents, school principals and campus marshals to carefully evaluate over the next two years the challenges remaining and any loopholes that might invite tragedy. School safety is an issue that we can’t ever presume to be fully solved. At least Texas has made a fair first step toward it.