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GOP to include $35M in budget for school safety

Posted May 24, 2018 10:40 a.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:50 p.m. EDT

— Republican lawmakers said Thursday that they plan to include $35 million in the 2018-19 state budget for various initiatives to make North Carolina schools safer.

the amount is about a quarter of the $130 million Gov. Roy Cooper proposed last month, although lawmakers said they hope to eventually free up another $30 million to $90 million by shifting some existing school health costs to the federal government through Medicaid.

"To provide safer schools is a journey, not a destination," said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, echoing colleagues who said the money for the coming years was only a first step to improve school safety.

The appropriations include $12 million in grants to pay for school resource officers, $7 million of which had already been budgeted; $10 million in grants for mental health personnel, such as school nurses and counselors; $5 million for a mobile app that allows students to report potential threats anonymously; $3 million for camera systems, doors and other security upgrades; $3 million for mental health training for school staffers; and $2 million for nonprofits who work with students in crisis.

Lawmakers have been working since the February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., to develop responses, and a special House committee came up with 15 recommendations, such as requiring specific training for SROs and threat assessments for every school.

"Some people think prevention of these incidents is an impossible task, but if you don't try, you won't get anywhere," said Sen. Ron Rabin, R-Harnett.

But the plan falls well short of what school health advocates had requested for nurses and counselors. According to legislative staff, it would cost at least $40 million to put a nurse in every school.

The $3 million set aside for school security upgrades amounts to about $26,000 per school district.

"This is not the end. This is only the beginning," said Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, who co-chaired the House Select Committee on School Safety along with Lewis. "We are addressing those issues we thought we could get out in front in the short session. We'll continue to look at other obvious issues as the committee moves forward into the next interim."

Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said Republican lawmakers' "misguided priorities" was "shortchanging youth mental health and school safety."

"These programs are important, and the legislature’s investment is simply not enough to protect our students," Porter said in a statement, noting that legislative leaders have refused to budge on income tax cuts set to take effect next year.

Lawmakers also plan to approve the budget next week through simple up-or-down votes, without allowing any amendments to the spending plan.

"While these investments will be helpful, they fall well short of the resources our students need and what Gov. Cooper is recommending," Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, with this year’s unprecedented budget process to limit public input, there will be no chance to change the priority of corporate board rooms over classrooms."