Gov. Bill Lee announced Thursday a $30 million school security initiative that would prioritize hiring more officers to keep students and teachers safer in Tennessee.
He’s especially concerned about more than 500 schools that currently do not have school resource officers, known as SROs.
“The safety of our children and teachers is a top priority for my administration, and this investment ensures that school districts will have the resources they need to better protect our schools,” Lee said in a statement.
The Republican governor wants to adjust the state’s school security grant program to help districts that are more financially needy. His proposal also would let schools that currently have SROs pursue grants to pay for other security needs such as building improvements and violence prevention programs.
The proposal would build on $10 million in recurring funding and $25 million in one-time funding that the legislature allocated last year to beef up school security in what then-Gov. Bill Haslam said was just a start. Haslam also ordered the first-ever comprehensive security assessment of every public school in Tennessee, which was completed last summer.
Lee proposes an additional $20 million in one-time funding and extra $10 million in recurring funding. If the legislature approves, the state’s total recurring investment would rise to $20 million and this year’s total package would be $40 million.
The heightened attention to school safety was sparked a year ago by the tragic shooting deaths of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, by a 19-year-old former student who had been expelled for disciplinary reasons.
Lee is not proposing additional money for school-based mental health needs, but urged local districts to explore ways to improve those kinds of services.
“While we are providing resources for additional security measures for our schools, districts need to also consider programming that identifies students who are in need of intervention,” he said. “Security is paramount, but we must also double down on efforts to identify harmful situations before they arise.”
The governor will unveil his proposed spending plan on March 4 when he also delivers his first State of the State address.
School resource officers have been used in Tennessee since 1993, with almost a thousand SROs now covering half of the state’s school buildings. According to the Tennessee School Resource Officer Association, elementary schools are the campuses that are most often without on-site police.
The state departments of education and safety and homeland security will work jointly to oversee programming and grant funds under Lee’s school safety proposal.
The initiative was the governor’s third on education since he took office in mid-January. He previously unveiled a $30 million proposal to expand career and technical education in Tennessee high schools and a $4 million plan to beef up STEM course offerings in science, engineering, technology, and math.
Correction: Feb. 21, 2019: This story has been updated with new numbers provided by the Lee administration showing $30 million in proposed new dollars and $10 million in recurring money from a fund started last year by the Haslam administration. A previous version of this story reported a $40 million boost under Lee’s initiative.