South Carolina Governor Announces $40 Million for School Safety Priorities

He and the education agency are also seeking $5 million for school mapping.

This is a photo of South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaking at a podium.
Gov. Henry McMaster outlined nearly $40 million in school safety requests he plans to include in his budget proposal at a ceremonial bill signing in Gilbert, S.C. on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. (Abraham Kenmore/SC Daily Gazette)

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GILBERT — Gov. Henry McMaster is asking legislators to put about $40 million next year toward K-12 school safety upgrades, more officers, and technology that helps emergency responders know where to go once they’re on campus.

The governor announced his school safety priorities while celebrating a law that established a training center where law enforcement, teachers, bus drivers and other school employees can practice how to respond to a shooter on campus in an actual school setting.

The center, run by the State Law Enforcement Division, is at the former Gilbert Elementary School, which Lexington One closed several years ago. The ceremonial signing at the school came six months after McMaster actually signed the bill into law.

“(Children) have to not only be safe, they have to know they’re safe,” McMaster said. “If they have to look over their shoulder and worry the whole time they’re in school, they’re not going to learn. They can’t be distracted, particularly by that.”

2nd year of safety grants?

McMaster said his budget recommendations for 2024-25 will include $20 million for school safety upgrades to make classrooms safer, such as internal door locks, bulletproof glass and security film for windows.

It would represent the second year of grants for such upgrades.

In the current state budget, legislators allowed the state Department of Education to spend up to $20 million of $120 million allocated for K-12 school construction on safety upgrades. The agency awarded the full $20 million after receiving $38 million worth of requests, according to the agency.

More than 50 school districts are receiving at least part of their request, with the smallest grant of less than $3,000 going to Horry County schools (which requested $1.4 million). Five districts received the top award of $1 million: Darlington County, Florence 2 (Hannah-Pamplico), Laurens 56 (Clinton), Marion County, and Marlboro County, according to an agency spreadsheet.

McMaster’s $20 million recommendation echos the education agency’s own budget request for more safety grants.

Maps and officers

He and the education agency are also seeking $5 million for school mapping, which creates digital models of school buildings that can be updated in real time to help first responders find their way around in a crisis.

The governor’s also requesting $13.4 million to hire 175 additional officers in schools to put a certified officer in every school, fulfilling a campaign pledge McMaster made in 2018 following the mass shooting at a high school in Florida.

Of South Carolina’s 1,284 public schools, 86% have a certified officer; 431 of them are funded by the state. McMaster’s request will cover the rest, said Robert Woods, director of the Department of Public Safety.

State schools Superintendent Ellen Weaver said she frequently hears from teachers who are concerned about safety along with pay. Addressing both is important for teacher retention, she said. Her budget request seeks $137 million to raise the state’s minimum pay for teachers by $1,500.

“That again speaks to the need to have an ‘all of the above’ strategy,” she said. “It’s not just the issue of teacher pay, it’s about creating environments where teachers feel valued, and they feel safe.”

The Center for School Safety and Targeted Violence at the old Gilbert elementary school is another aspect of creating safe schools, Weaver said.

The school had already been used in law enforcement training since 2017 but needed some upgrades, said SLED Chief Mark Keel.

The work should be completed within six months, he said.

Any law enforcement agency in South Carolina can use the facility for training at no cost, and classes will be offered for educators, firefighters and emergency medical personnel as well as parents and other residents.

“Recent events across the country show us we must do all we can to prepare law enforcement, school personnel, students, parents and the community for unimaginable events,” Keel said. “I can’t think of a more important mission than keeping our kids safe.”

McMaster will release his full budget recommendations for the fiscal year starting July 1 next month.

SC Daily Gazette is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. SC Daily Gazette maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Seanna Adcox for questions: info@scdailygazette.com. Follow SC Daily Gazette on Facebook and Twitter.

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