Amid the continued fallout of the May 24 mass shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead at a Uvalde elementary school, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan has requested the Texas Legislature to redirect more than $100 million in state funding to quickly boost mental health and school safety programs before school starts again next fall.
Two weeks ago, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick similarly made a $50 million budget request for bulletproof shields for school police departments, saying they could have helped police officers more quickly confront the gunman in the Uvalde school shooting. Phelan said he also supported that purchase, describing it as a “worthwhile goal” in a letter to Patrick Monday.
“Like you, 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 wrote. “I also believe our state is best served by a multi-faceted response — one that includes strategies to improve mental health outcomes and strengthen school security for students and teachers.”
The state’s two-year budget is set by the Legislature, which is not scheduled to return until January 2023. Phelan’s request would require legislators to reallocate already appropriated money to another source. This process is known as “budget execution” and has been most recently used to send about $1 billion to Operation Lone Star, Gov. Greg Abbott’s costly border mission that was running out of funds. Phelan’s plan would also need the approval of the Senate, as well as heads of budgeting committees. Phelan has pointed to the surplus money in the Foundation School Program as a potential funding source for the program.
While Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott praised both proposals presented by Phelan and Patrick, calling them a “great start to delivering not only on the needs of the Uvalde community, but for schools and communities across Texas,” members of the Democratic Party and teachers have expressed their frustration.
“We do need to expand [mental health] services; we do need to make sure that our school buildings are safe,” Jamarr Brown, Co-Executive Director of the Texas Democratic Party, said. “But this doesn’t get to the real issue that is at hand here — we’re talking about guns.”
Brown’s sentiment was echoed by Ken Zarifis with Education Austin, the union that represents Austin area teachers and school staff.
“This does nothing to stop guns from getting in the hands of an 18-year-old a week after his birthday and going out and shooting kids,” Zarifis said. “It’s not enough. Not even close.”