Gov. Lee proposes $40 million for school safety


CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee introduced new proposal this week that would double the amount of state funding for school safety.

Gov. Lee is proposing a $40 million investment for additional school resource officers and new safety technology. This would be available as grant money, so every school system would have to apply.

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However, if Hamilton County received money, officials tell me it would help protect the 60 percent of the district that does not have an assigned SRO.

“I think we have a governor that’s concerned about our students, concerned about our schools, which is where we need to be,” former Hamilton County Commissioner Joe Graham said.

This week, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced his proposal for 40 million extra state dollars to fund school safety initiatives.

State and county officials like the idea, as they wait to hear all the details.

“I think it’s great. We will of course, when he releases his budget in the next ten days or so, we’ll have a better idea of where the money is coming from and all those kinds of things. But we think it’s a good investment,” State Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson) said.

$20 million would be allotted every year for school safety. The other $20 million would be a one time investment.

“The purpose behind the grant is to not only provide for additional school security but to give students, their families, teachers, principals, more confidence in the security systems that we have in place,” Watson said.

The state estimates there to be 500 schools without SROs. Forty-seven of Hamilton County’s schools do not have an assigned officer.

Former county commissioner Joe Graham helped create the current county budget. He says the added state funds would help the county focus on finding the right hires.

“With the finance portion of it being a very large piece being taken care of hopefully by the state to back up Hamilton County, then this would be great news for our school system because we can focus on finding the right person instead of finding the funds and the person. So, this is great news,” Graham said.

The state says the money would be spent on school resource officers as well as safety technology.

“Security resource officers are an important part of the equation,” Sen. Watson said. “But they’re only a part of the equation. Using technology, which our school system has been doing, is really probably one of the best defenses against some kind of school violent activity.”

The proposal still needs to be passed by the state’s general assembly.

Continue below for the governor’s full press release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced a new investment in school safety to better protect teachers and students and prepare against the threat of violence.

“The safety of our children and teachers is a top priority for my administration, and this investment ensures that school districts will have the resources they need to better protect our schools,” said Lee.

Gov. Lee is proposing a $40 million investment for the school safety grant fund. Legislation filed will provide additional changes to existing law to prioritize the distribution of these grants to school resource officers.

Approximately 500 Tennessee schools do not currently have SROs, and changes to the law will enable them to fill these positions. The proposal also accommodates underserved counties working to secure schools and fill SRO positions by adjusting limited match requirements to be proportional to districts’ fiscal capacity.

“Several members of the legislature have begun working on school safety measures,” said Lee. “We commend their efforts and look forward to working together to protect our students and teachers.”

The new funding plan also enables schools that currently have an SRO to pursue grants to fund other safety priorities such as implementing building security measures or developing innovative violence prevention programs.

“While we are providing resources for additional security measures for our schools, districts need to also consider programming that identifies students who are in need of intervention,” said Lee. “Security is paramount, but we must also double down on efforts to identify harmful situations before they arise.”

The Department of Safety and Homeland Security and the Department of Education will jointly oversee programming and grant funds while also providing threat assessment tools.