NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Governor Bill Lee announced new funding for school security, including $140 million for public schools to hire School Resource Officers and highly-trained guards, a new grant fund for both public and non-public schools and increased mental health funding. This marks the first live public comments for the governor since The Covenant School shooting.
In the days following the tragedy that took the lives of six people, including three children, rallying cries for gun control have been heard on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol, as well as inside the Capitol building.
On Monday morning, thousands of students across Nashville walked out of class at 10:13 a.m., exactly one week after Metro police received the first 911 call from The Covenant School, and made their way to the Capitol to call for action on gun violence.
Last Thursday, three days after the shooting, a grassroots rally drew thousands of parents and other community members to the Capitol as they faced lawmakers who began the legislative session that morning.
Last Tuesday, a day after the events at Covenant School, Lee took to YouTube to address the mass shooting.
In his address, Lee mourned the loss of the six victims, saying, “some parents woke up without children, children woke up without parents and without teachers, and spouses woke up without their loved ones.”
The governor announced the $140 million budget amendment would take the burden of school security off of teachers, schools and school districts.
“There is no excuse to not have a guard at every school,” the governor said.
The new grant fund will allow for schools to make “significant physical security upgrades” at both public and non-public schools across the state, he added.
Third, the increase in mental health resource funding would constitute a double of the current amount of funding the state has for the mental health liaisons. The increased funding would expand the number of liaisons from just one in every county to multiple in counties across the state.
Prior to today’s announcement, the governor said the budget for this year included funding for one Homeland Security agent in every county in order to “prevent threats before they become tragedies.” Additionally, the budget would have increased accountability around school safety in order to ensure that exterior doors were locked at all times while students were in the classroom.
One thing the governor did not mention specifically was any kind of gun control. Instead, the governor said there was a “serious conversation need about school safety.”
“Collectively, the leadership in our office and the general assembly is working to find the way forward to look not only to the solutions that we lay out today but solutions that will be worked together in the weeks to come to make our state a safer place so that all of our kids can come home safely after school,” the governor said.
When asked if he would support a gun control measure known as a “red flag” law, Lee said one thing everyone could probably agree on was that “a person who is a threat to themselves or a threat to others should not have access to weapons,” but said he wanted to find a way to accomplish that without infringing on constitutional rights.
“To the degree that we can do that, protecting the constitutional rights of our people at the same time, including that person, the way that we do that together is the way forward,” he said. “We should look at ways to accomplish that.”
Lee said he and others in the legislature would likely look to legislation in other states in order to determine which future measures would work best for Tennesseans.
“There would be an opportunity to look around the country at ways that we can in fact do that very thing, which is make sure that those who are a threat to our people, to our children, do not have access to weapons, protecting the constitutional rights of Tennesseans at the same time. That is the way forward,” he said.
While Lee’s plan seeks to add an SRO into every school in Tennessee, questions about staffing issues and officer shortages were also address by the governor.
“We acknowledge that law enforcement recruitment is very difficult, but the very first step—you have to take away the restrictions to a district. The very first one is the dollars involved in hiring one of these officers. We’ll work together with districts to work together with local law enforcement agencies to find these,” he said.