Gov. Bill Lee’s response to the mass school shooting that occurred in Uvalde, Texas, was to issue an executive order. An executive order by a governor is a declaration which has the force of law.
Since military-style guns were recently used by 18- or 19-year-old shooters, you would think Governor Lee would address the issue of military-style weapons. He did not.
Executive Order 97, given in a press release, is about enhancing school safety. The executive order addressed areas for parents, schools and law enforcement.
For parents, the order creates a School Safety Resources and Engagement Guide to inform parents how to “effectively engage and advocate for safe conditions at their child’s school.”
Please identify the school faculty and administration in Tennessee who has not worked tirelessly for the last decade or more along with members in the community to improve and enhance school safety.
Will a brochure protect your school-aged child against a shooter carrying a semiautomatic rifle with high velocity bullets? High velocity bullets can decimate a school door lock. Can you imagine what it could do to a child or a teacher?
For schools, the governor’s executive order “directs Tennessee state agencies to provide guidance to help local school districts implement existing school safety law.”
What school district in Tennessee does not know how to implement existing school safety laws?
Tennessee law already requires each public school to conduct an annual school security assessment and a school safety plan. Local education agencies have always recognized their responsibilities for school safety and are continually assessing their needs as well as making improvements in the district’s safety plans.
Locally, school officials and local police/sheriff’s departments have worked together to provide the best and most complete procedures to enhance school building safety and school children protection against an unauthorized intruder regardless if they are carrying a military-style weapon or not.
What district has not been informed about financial resources for school safety that are available through state programs and the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act?
School systems all across Tennessee search for every penny they can acquire from all state agencies to help fund schools in their district. The problem is and has been that the state has not been funding schools at a level to maintain a break-even with inflation.
The failure of the state to fully fund school resource officers for all public schools and school nurses along with mental health professionals is a glaring state problem. This coming school year is not an exception.
Currently there are more than 1,700 public schools in Tennessee. Although the governor announced in 2019 SRO grant funding, one must realize that grants are not forever funding. The two-year program funded temporarily 213 SROs and required a 25% LEA matching amount. The grant funding level was $35,000 for one SRO.
In Tennessee, SROs (sworn law enforcement officers) are funded with a hodgepodge funding apparatus that includes funding by individual counties using the sheriff’s budget, local police department budget, a single non-recurring grant or school districts.
Why is the state not funding 100% of all SROs for every public school in Tennessee? The unspent fund balance for the state is over $2 billion. Money is not the issue. Local communities should not have to fund SROs.
During an inflationary period when prices are increasing, so are the sales taxes collected by the state. Indeed, with continued inflation the state revenues will continue to increase every year going forward.
Every public school in Tennessee does not currently have an SRO on their campus. SROs answer to their sheriff or police chief, not to a principal or superintendent. Where are the governor’s priorities?
The state will be updating the state School Safety Plan Template for districts by July 1 to provide greater detail regarding deficiencies that schools have identified when they conducted their safety assessments.
Was the state’s previous template poorly designed? Will underfunded deficiencies be made public so a potential school campus shooter will know the deficiencies?
The template includes a description of district spending on building security and other school safety initiatives and how much expenditures mitigate the identified deficiencies. Please identify which LEAs have failed to identify costs related to building security or other school safety initiatives.
The governor needs to understand how school district accountants and finances actually work. Perhaps he needs a course in school funding management when your state financial resources are not adequate to fund necessary improvements in schools. Poorer school districts have limited financial resources.
Finally, schools will need to designate a single point of contact for school safety matters. That is nothing new, as this has existed for a number of years. Included with this designation, districts are to receive guidance from the State Fire Marshal’s Office and other state agencies regarding how to appropriately improve school building security. Local fire marshals have been doing this for years.
The order directs the Department of Education to identify regional staff to support school safety by repurposing existing staff to focus on safety, mental health and family and community engagement. The department has limited regional staff personnel and many who have never had an in-depth school safety or mental health initiatives training themselves.
The bottom line is Governor Lee, during an election year, wants to sound like he is doing something. His Executive Order 97 was about politics.
Governor Lee failed to address the most important issue. That is military-style weapons with high velocity bullets. There are no school safety rules that can save a child or teacher against a military-style weapon.
They kill innocent schoolchildren and their teachers. Is that another adult failure for school-aged children and their teachers when your governor ignores the real threat to their life?
Ed McKinney of Johnson City is a retired business educator.