Sen. Arthur Orr is proposing safety audits by law enforcement at every public school in the state to identify and fix potential security weaknesses.
“I like the idea of a consistent audit group looking at all schools,” Orr, chairman of the Senate education budget committee, told Alabama Daily News. He’s working on a draft bill for the 2024 legislative session.
He said he favors having designated law enforcement officers conduct the regular evaluations. What agency is still to be determined, but the goal is to have inspections every three to five years to ensure “rudimentary safety precautions” at all schools, Orr, R-Decatur, said. Those precautions include exterior doors that can be kept locked to intruders but allow people to exit the building if needed and intercom systems.
“Then, we can try to set up a fund in the (Education Trust Fund) to address the reports, the deficiencies as found by this trained group of officers,” Orr said.
Orr said he wants to get the audits funded in the 2025 education budget and then have a pool of maybe $5 or $10 million for improvements in the 2026 budget.
“We start with the basics and work our way up,” Orr told ADN.
He thinks a small team of officers would be sufficient to perform the audits every two to three years.
“Some schools won’t have any problems,” Orr said.
Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring annual safety audits at public schools by designated state education staff members. The audits include recommendations and required corrective actions to address security deficiencies.
Last year, school officials here told Alabama Daily News that schools’ physical security measures had improved in the last 10 years, but gaps remain. Educators have also asked for dedicated state funding related to security measures. Schools are allowed to use their semi-regular Advancement and Technology appropriations for security, but competing needs include capital projects, transportation costs and deferred maintenance. The one-time allocations vary by school size but in recent years have been millions of dollars for the largest systems. There was no A&T allocation in 2023 as lawmakers don’t have to allocate the funds every year.
The recently reconvened School Safety Advisory Commission, a panel of lawmakers and law enforcement, mental health and education officials, met late last month. Committee chair Terri Collins, R-Decatur, said the group is focusing on two aspects of school safety: students’ mental health and building security features.
She said she welcomes Orr’s proposal.
“This is very much in line with the discussions we’re having at the school safety task force,” Collins said. “The Legislature has allowed schools to use A&T money for capital improvements related to safety, but hasn’t required it. And many schools use that money for what they consider more pressing needs.”
She said the commission has considered a requirement that a certain percentage of A&T money be dedicated to building security.
“…Making sure we have some minimum standards (is a goal of the commission),” she said.
Separately, several Alabama lawmakers are strongly pushing for the creation of education savings accounts, which would potentially see hundreds of millions of education dollars be sent directly to parents for use on private or home schooling.
State Superintendent Eric Mackey told ADN Thursday that in the event of the creation of ESAs, he would like to see accountability measures established to ensure private schools were just as safe as public schools.
“If we’re going to flow public money into a facility, we want to make sure it’s a safe facility,” Mackey told ADN.
The 2024 legislative session begins Feb. 7.