National Politics

What will it take to make schools safe? This Texas lawmaker has a new plan

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams filed legislation that would allow schools to ask for security-related grants from the U.S. education secretary.
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams filed legislation that would allow schools to ask for security-related grants from the U.S. education secretary.

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams has his own plan to keep students across the country safe.

The Weatherford car dealer has filed a bill to let schools seek funding from the U.S. Department of Education to put in place whatever safety measures — metal detectors, steel doors, bulletproof glass, safety training — local officials believe are necessary to protect students and teachers.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would review those requests and grant however much of the department's $63 billion budget is deemed necessary to those schools.

"She might spend $10 million. She might spend $50 billion — whatever the requests might be," said Williams, whose district stretches from the edge of Tarrant County through Austin. "She would be able to secure these schools and keep these kids in a safe environment.

"We've got to act now," he said. "It should be our top priority to protect these kids and make these schools safe."

Williams is the latest North Texas lawmaker to propose a school safety plan in the wake of the Feb. 14 Florida school shooting that claimed 17 lives.

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School returned to class Wednesday for the first time since the shooting, starting the day with a 17-second period of silence to honor those who died.

A number of them have asked Congress and other elected officials to take steps to keep them safe.

"This is a total wake-up call and we need to respond," Williams said.

The new plan

As schools across the country review their safety plans, Williams has filed House Resolution 5107. The bill would create a grant program to let public school officials ask for funds for security assessments and to "make the necessary improvements to the security" of their facilities.

In addition to metal detectors, steel doors and other equipment, funding could be used for manpower to, for instance, run the metal detectors.

DeVos could approve as many plans as are submitted.

"Any amounts appropriated or otherwise made available to the Secretary of Education for any purpose for a fiscal year may be made available for this," according to the proposal.

"I think that it's hard to argue with this," Williams said. "We are supposed to take care of our kids, and we failed at Parkland.

"There's no better way to spend our budgeted dollars than to protect our schools."

Williams knows firsthand what it's like to be trapped by gunfire.

He was among the Republicans who were fired at for around eight minutes last year at their last practice to get ready for the congressional baseball game. As they practiced, an Illinois man who belonged to anti-Republican groups fired about 200 rounds at them, injuring several.

Williams, the coach of the team, injured his ankle diving into the third-base dugout to avoid being shot.

Other plans

President Donald Trump has suggested arming teachers to help keep schools safe.

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, recently proposed the Securing Children in Schools Act to create a federal grant program that would fund metal detectors at public schools across the country. She plans to file her bill in the coming days.

And U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, has said he plans to talk with the NRA, Republicans, Democrats, the Texas congressional delegation and the Freedom Caucus to work behind the scenes to do everything from buckle down on background checks to give law enforcers more authority to screen, investigate and even detain people who are believed to be a threat of shooting others.

Major businesses are taking action, too. On Wednesday, Dick's Sporting Goods announced it will no longer sell assault-style rifles or high-capacity magazines.

"We don't want to be a part of this story any longer," CEO Edward Stack told the news media. "We were so disturbed and saddened by what happened down there and watching those kids be so brave to walk out of that school and start to organized for gun reform. If they can be that brave, then we can be that brave too."

Later in the day, Wal-Mart said it would raise the minimum age for firearm and ammunition purchases to 21.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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