NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On April 3rd, one week after the tragic shooting at The Covenant School, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, Speaker Cameron Sexton and legislative leadership announced additional actions to strengthen safety at public and private schools across Tennessee. These measures include enhanced legislation and funding to place an armed security guard at every Tennessee public school, boost physical school security at public and private schools, and provide additional mental health resources for Tennesseans.
“There is nothing more important than our students safely returning home each day,” said Gov. Lee. “As Tennessee grieves the tragic loss of six precious lives in the Covenant shooting, we are taking additional actions to significantly boost safety measures at every school with highly-trained guards, physical security enhancements and mental health resources. I thank Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton and members of the General Assembly for their partnership as we pursue thoughtful, practical solutions to protect Tennessee students and teachers.”
At the beginning of the 2023 legislative session, Gov. Lee introduced a bill to strengthen physical security at every public school and enhance accountability in school safety protocol. Additionally, the Governor’s initial budget proposal included $30 million for 122 Homeland Security agents to serve students at both public and private schools in every Tennessee county. These school safety measures were highlighted in the Governor’s 2023 State of the State address in February.
Following the tragic Covenant shooting that took the lives of six Tennesseans, including three children, Gov. Lee and members of the Tennessee General Assembly coalesced around further action steps to strengthen school safety.
The Governor’s amended legislation and budget proposal will include the following measures:
Enhanced School Safety Legislation (HB322/SB274)
· Enacts a multi-tiered accountability plan to ensure exterior school doors are locked while students are present, with opportunities for corrective action. State and local law enforcement will be authorized to check for unlocked doors
· Requires that private security guards are held to a high standard and receive active shooter training prior to being posted at Tennessee schools
· Requires every school district to establish threat assessment teams, a nationally recognized best practice to ensure students are connected to support services and behavioral health professionals, when appropriate
· Requires every public and private school to develop annual safety plans, which must include a newly required incident command drill for school leaders and law enforcement to prepare for what to expect in various emergencies
FY23-24 Budget Proposal:
· $30 million to expand a statewide homeland security network with 122 agents serving students at both public and private schools
· $140 million to establish a School Resource Officer (SRO) grant fund to place a trained, armed security guard at every public school
· $20 million for public school security upgrades
· $7 million for private school security upgrades
· $8 million for additional school-based behavioral health liaisons across the state
Since 2019, Gov. Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly have prioritized investments in school safety every year. In June 2021, the Governor signed Executive Order 97 and launched a statewide effort to enhance school safety by boosting collaboration among parents, schools and local law enforcement across the state. A complete list of Gov. Lee’s school safety actions to date can be found here.
Gov. Lee appreciates the partnership of legislative leaders in the Tennessee General Assembly to further strengthen school safety.
“I am grateful to Governor Lee for expanding the school safety component of his budget amendment and his legislation,” said Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally. “Governor Lee and my colleagues in the General Assembly have made great strides on school safety in the past few years. But more needed to be done and Governor Lee has answered that call. Hardening security at our public and private schools can no longer be just a priority, it is now an imperative. I am looking forward to working with Speaker Sexton and Leaders Johnson and Lamberth to approve these changes as we continue to focus on solutions to mitigate tragedies like those of last week.”
“Our children must feel safe when they attend their school of choice. Gov. Lee’s plan to fund SROs for public and private schools will provide a safer learning environment and additional security,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton. “We also must continue to address mental health in K-12 education and provide resources like counselors, social workers, and other health care professionals.”
“The safety of our students is the most important concern. I appreciate Governor Lee for his work on this comprehensive school security plan and look forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly on this proposal to provide safe learning environments for all students, regardless of where they go to school,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. “Strong security, which includes armed SROs, is imperative to ensuring the safety of students, teachers and staff. I am glad Gov. Lee is proposing a significant investment in school-based mental health liaisons to provide important services to those experiencing mental health crises.”
“The tragedy at Covenant school underscores that evil takes the path of least resistance and preys on society’s most vulnerable. No child, parent, teacher or school employee should ever fear for their safety,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth. “I am thankful to Gov. Lee and my Republican colleagues for their continued commitment and investment in our schools. These are aggressive and necessary steps that will ensure Tennessee’s schools are the safest, most secure in the nation.”
From the Office of the Governor