Still, the plan won what is perhaps surprising praise from groups and politicians who are often Abbott’s adversaries. State Rep. Chris Turner, the Grand Prairie Democrat who chairs his party’s House caucus, said he and his colleagues “support many of the ideas that Gov. Abbott laid out today.” And Texas Gun Sense Vice President Ed Scruggs said the proposal represents the most movement he’s seen on gun violence issues in Texas in decades.
“We’re happy that the conversation has begun. We basically went 20 years without being able to have this discussion,” Scruggs said. “This type of leadership, even on just a few moderate issues, is important.”
Abbott’s announcement, made at the Dallas school district’s headquarters Wednesday, came one day after students at Santa Fe High School students returned to class for the first time following the deadly shootings.
At the heart of the governor’s proposal is “hardening” schools like Santa Fe as targets, both by guarding them with increased police presence and by persuading more school districts to join existing state programs for arming school staff. Abbott proposed several pages’ worth of revisions to Texas’ School Marshal Program, one of two such systems that combine to arm teachers in more than 170 of Texas’ 1,000-plus school districts.
Schools should not be required to join such programs, Abbott said, but he did propose that the state pay for training for it this summer to ease the burden on individual districts.
The governor also placed heavy emphasis on “preventing threats in advance,” largely through expanded mental health screening programs and on-campus counseling.
Abbott also proposed expanding a mental health screening program already operated through the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. He said he hopes to “eventually” make that program — currently operational in 10 school districts — a statewide system, and said he recommends Texas fund it with $20 million.
The Telemedicine Wellness, Intervention, Triage, and Referral Project, which aims to identify junior high and high school students at risk of committing school violence and intervene before tragedy occurs, has already had 25 students removed from school, 44 placed in alternative schools and 38 sent to a hospital. Abbott had praised that program just hours after the shooting, tweeting that “we want to use it across the state.”