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Rural school district leaders concerned with funding as they look to improve school security, mental healthcare access

"I worry about the rural communities in particular because I don't want them to be left out," said Rep. Tony Gonzales. "Many times they have nothing."

TEXAS, USA — Almost three weeks after the tragedy at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, lawmakers are still at odds, hashing out the details for what could be the most momentous gun legislation the U.S. has seen in decades.

District 23 Congressman Tony Gonzales met with a group of school district leaders on Monday, and said the Senate package has a bigger focus on mental health, leading to grant dollars available to schools if passed.

The main concern however during the zoom meeting was campus safety as the districts have just over 60 days to prepare for the upcoming school year, and improving school security comes with a high cost.

“I want to make sure that that we are working together to it to infuse some confidence into our our teachers, into our staff, into our parents, in our in our kids to make sure that they know that they're safe,” said Gonzales.

Gonzales offered help from his office to the districts in applying for grants to help with those costs. He said he’s been working to help other communities get funding.

For example, he said the City of Devine, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, Medina County, and the City of Natalia recently applied for the Dept. of Justice’s Community Policing in Action (COPS) Hiring Program (CHP).

CHP funding goes to law enforcement agencies to “hire and/or rehire additional career law enforcement officers in an effort to increase their community policing capacity and crime prevention efforts,” according to the DOJ website.

In 2020, the San Antonio Police Department was awarded over $3.1 million in CHP funds.  This year the DOJ said over $156 million in funding is available. 

Other grants like (COPS) School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP) provides funding to improve school security.

Last year, out of the 285 applications submitted for the SVPP grant,  the DOJ shelled out close to $52 million to just 153 school districts across the country.   The so-called “competitive” dollars hard to get, only 10 districts in Texas received the award, and only two in the San Antonio region.

Boerne ISD received just over $19,000 in SVPP funding, and Utopia ISD received just under $300,000.

School district leaders said they can’t wait for the money to come in, if they even are selected as a recipient.  They only have between now and August, one school leader said, to regain the confidence of their communities.

So, for many of these rural districts that would mean finding money in their already tight budgets to improve aging school buildings and increase police presence on campus.  Mounting expenses some of these small districts don’t can’t support.

“I worry about the rural communities in particular because I don't want them to be left out. I don't want any community to be left out, but many times they have nothing. And we're not talking minimal, they usually have nothing,” said Gonzales.

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