Cooper seeks $130M for school safety, mental health

Posted April 19, 2018 2:24 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:50 p.m. EDT

— Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday called for $130 million in the state budget for personnel, training and facility upgrades he says are needed to improve school safety in North Carolina.

"No educator should ever have to put him or herself between a student and a dangerous weapon. No parent should ever have to wonder whether their child is going to make it out alive," Cooper said during a visit to Cedar Ridge High School in Hillsborough. "Brave students across North Carolina and across this country are making their voices heard. They want action. I do, too."

Cooper's proposal includes $65 million for safety upgrades to public schools and buildings on community college and university campuses, such as stronger doors, panic alarms and security monitoring. Another $40 million would fund 500 positions for school counselors, psychologists and nurses, while $10 million would pay for more school resource officers.

State funding for school nurses has been cut over the past few years, but school nurse Jennifer Pepin said the need for such services has never been greater.

"Over the past 10 years working here at Cedar Ridge High School, I have seen a notable increase in my time spent with students who are struggling with mental health, substance abuse and related issues," she said.

Pepin said she's fortunate to be stationed at her school full time, noting many school nurses serve multiple schools and may visit only once a week.

"School nurses, school counselors and school social workers have been specifically educated to address mental and psychiatric concerns, but we need to be present every day to do that work," she said.

Cooper also wants to set aside $15 million to offer training to school personnel, "from counselors to cafeteria workers," to identify warning signs of trouble and be able to respond to them in time and to provide services to children with behavioral problems and their families.

Lawmakers have been meeting in recent weeks to devise their own recommendations to make schools safer, but it's unclear when they plan to roll those out.

"We are looking forward to reviewing the governor’s full budget proposal once he completes it and shares it with the General Assembly," Shelly Carver, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, said in an email.

Cooper has already called for tighter gun laws in North Carolina, such as raising the age to purchase assault-style rifles and requiring a background check for such purchases, similar to those sheriffs conduct for handgun purchases. Lawmakers haven't yet addressed that issue.

"We cannot afford for Washington to act on school safety," he said. "We need to keep guns out of the wrong hands and off of our school campuses, and we have to provide our schools the funding to help keep our kids safe."