Thursday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill to provide a funding source for upgrading school security.
Senate Bill 323 was sponsored by State Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, and carried in the House by State Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa. The bill would allow local school systems to tap the Education Advancement and Technology Fund for improvements to school security.
Under current law, the fund can be used for repairs, insurance, technology and transportation. Under the Rolling Reserve Act, money is earmarked for the School Stabilization Fund. Once that amount has been reached, the overage – if there is an overage – goes to the Education Advancement and Technology Fund. That money is then redistributed to the school systems for the approved purposes on a per capita basis.
Poole said the bill would allow school systems to use the money for security cameras, making entrances more secure, such as metal detectors and other nonrecurring uses related to security. “Any tool we can add to the toolboxes that schools have to keep the premises safe is critical.”
State Rep. Koven L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, offered an amendment to allow school systems to borrow from the stabilization fund in case of a disaster. They would have to pay the money back within two years and would lose their Education Advancement and Technology Fund money if they did not pay it back.
Poole is called this a “bridge loan” to be used by a disaster-impacted school system between the time of the disaster and when insurance finally paid. Poole said that the state requires that all school systems carry insurance to avoid some of the financial disasters that natural disasters like the Enterprise High School tornado event caused in the past.
Poole said that total money available for loans would be limited to just ten percent of the stabilization fund per disaster and 20 percent in the event that there were multiple natural disasters.
Poole said that schools who do not pay all of the money back within two years will be charged eight percent interest. The governor will be responsible for certifying that there has been a natural disaster, that repairs are needed and for authorizing the comptroller to release the funds. K-12 schools, two year colleges, state colleges and universities, including Tuskegee University, would all be protected under this amendment.
Several legislators expressed concerns that allowing schools to borrow money from the stabilization fund would defeat the purpose of the Rolling Reserve Act.
State Represenative Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, said, “This is a noble concept; but it is a dangerous concept to start disturbing the Rolling Reserve and it is an administrative nightmare to manage.”
Rep. Brown withdrew his amendment in the face of the opposition. Brown represents Jacksonville, which was hit hard by a tornado late Tuesday night.
State Representative John Knight, D-Montgomery, offered an amendment to prevent local school systems from using the money for weapons for teachers or administrators.
Poole asked the House to table Knights’ amendment.
The House voted 52-21 to table the Knight amendment.
Poole offered a technical amendment to clean up the synopsis now that Rep. Brown’s amendment is not part of the bill.
SB323 passed the House 96 to zero.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked Poole if there should be a fund established to provide assistance to school systems impacted by disasters like tornados, hurricanes or fires.
Poole, who chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Education Committee, did not believe that a disaster fund was necessary.
Reporters asked Poole if the Legislature should have prevented the school system from using the money to buy guns to defend against school shooters.
Poole said that that is a local school board decision and that the Legislature did not want to be telling the school boards what to do.
Reporters asked Poole if the money could be used to hire school resource officers.
Poole said that money from the fund can not be used for recurring expenses like salaries.
The bill has already passed the Senate but because Poole added a technical amendment on the floor, it has to go back to the Senate for their approval.
Gov. Kay Ivey has already announced her support for the measure.