A House committee Wednesday morning approved a measure that would provide up to $50 million in bonds to fund security enhancements in school systems around the state, though there were some questions raised about how effective that amount would be.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, would allocate about $40 million for schools to secure their entrances, with schools unable to pay for those improvements given priority. The remaining $10 million, reserved for items like security camera systems and metal detectors, would be awarded to school districts on the basis of their student population, meaning larger districts in Jefferson and Mobile counties would get more than smaller ones.
The security needs in the state are real. A survey conducted by the School Superintendents of Alabama in January found 46 percent of Alabama teachers could not lock their doors from the inside, while 71 percent could not monitor their doors from a central location.
“I think the first line of defense is securing these facilities,” Treadaway told the House Ways and Means Education Committee. “This bill provides funds to secure facilities across Alabama.”
Craig Pouncey, chief of staff for State Superintendent Tommy Bice, said Monday the bond would cover about 40 percent of the needs in the state.
The committee passed the bond on a voice vote. Members raised no objections to the bill itself. However, Rep. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville, indicated he wanted private schools to have access to the bond money.
“I predict you’ll see amendments coming to include all school children in Alabama,” Williams told Treadaway.
If approved, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimates the bond will cost the Education Trust Fund about $3.7 million a year. Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, who supported the bond, said she was concerned about expenses to the ETF that are not listed in the budget.
“We don’t seem to have running tally of how much money we’ve appropriated out of the ETF that we don’t have in the budget,” she said.
Securing a school’s entrances may prove harder than seems at first. Eric Mackey, director of the SSA, said securing the front door of a building “is pretty doable.” However, he said, a typical 4-A school in Alabama has between 80 to 100 doors — most locked and used only for fires and emergencies — and more than one facility.
“The big problem with schools is they’re multiple buildings,” Mackey said, saying students go to different structures for class, lunch or other activities. “They don’t just go through the front door. They go through all the doors.”