BY STATE REP. LYLE LARSON
At 11:19 a.m. on April 20, 1999, a shot was fired at Columbine High School in Colorado. The last shot was fired almost an hour later at 12:08 p.m. The two young shooters killed 13 and wounded 23 others before killing themselves.
In another school shooting, this one almost 20 years later at Santa Fe High School, an officer engaged the student shooter just 12 minutes after his first shot. Eighteen minutes later the young suspect, who fatally shot 10 and wounded 13, was in custody.
After Columbine, the most important lesson learned with regard to containing the threat of an active shooter is that the quicker the shooter is confronted by a law enforcement officer who has tactical and situational training, the sooner the incident ends. ALERRT, the program designed by Texas State University, is considered by the FBI to be the national standard for law enforcement to stop an active shooter. The ALERRT program trains officers to isolate, distract or neutralize an active shooter to keep them from accessing potential victims.
Prior to the Columbine tragedy, the idea of an active shooter attacking a school was unfathomable. In the nearly two decades since, we have unfortunately learned more about what needs to be done to keep our children safe with additional school shootings, most recently in Santa Fe.
While school districts need to address school safety from an architectural standpoint, including adding metal detectors and limiting access to the inside of campuses from doors and windows, it has become a necessity that law enforcement be present at all times in school buildings when they’re occupied by students.
The Texas Legislature needs to allocate resources to school districts for the specific purpose of employing at least one certified law enforcement officer in every school, depending on enrollment. Rather than simply encouraging districts to take this step, or even mandating it with unfunded legislation, the state must take responsibility for the cost of keeping our kids safe.
Various ideas to prevent and address school shootings have been circulating for the last two decades, and some school districts have taken important steps to protect their students, including the deployment of resource officers and law enforcement officials throughout school campuses, but it is an expensive endeavor.
Fiscal constraints caused by the legislature’s reduction of funding for schools by 14 percent over, ironically, the last two decades, has made employing law enforcement officers at every school building cost prohibitive. We appreciate Gov. Greg Abbott’s efforts to take a holistic approach to preventing school shootings and keeping students safe, but we in the Legislature must take responsibility by providing funding to school districts to accomplish these goals.
According to the Texas Education Agency, there are about 3,000 public school campuses throughout the state. To staff each school with a full-time law enforcement officer at an average cost of $50,000 per officer would cost the state in total about $150 million annually. To put this in perspective, in the last two biennia, the legislature allocated a total of $1.6 billion for border security. While securing the border is an important goal, isn’t the safety of Texas schoolchildren at least equally important?
State troopers guard the Texas Capitol around the clock. Federal, state and local government regulations across the country require the presence of law enforcement security in most public buildings, including airports, city halls and courthouses. The least we can do for every public school student in Texas is provide the same level of security.
We can’t wait any longer. We must take action this summer to ensure our students will be kept safe when school resumes in the fall. The Legislative Budget Board and the comptroller should meet immediately to allocate resources to enable school districts to hire law enforcement officers to be in place at each campus the first day of school in August.
There are roughly 5.4 million children enrolled in public schools in Texas. Spending $28 per child to provide a safe learning environment is a small price to pay. It’s time to get serious about protecting our state’s most precious resource.
State Rep. Lyle Larson is a Republican from San Antonio.