School Resource Officer Cpl. Robert Oswalt watches over students at Irmo High School Thursday.
By Robert Kittle
After the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, South Carolina lawmakers focused on school security. But they will end their regular session on June 6 without passing any bills to improve it.
Similar bills in the House and Senate would have required an armed, uniformed School Resource Officer, or SRO, in every public school in the state, but neither bill has passed. Another House bill would have required every school to have a school psychologist, to identify and help treat students with behavioral problems. But that bill was changed to only create a study committee to look at the feasibility of putting a psychologist in every school.
Lawmakers say cost was the major factor that prevented them from passing anything. Putting a resource officer in every school would cost anywhere from $50 million to $80 million.
The issue was also more complicated than they realized, says Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, a co-sponsor of the Senate bill to require SROs in every school. "I think we'll make it happen," he says. "It's not going to happen fast enough to suit anybody."
One of the complications is figuring out how the state would pay for the officers, since some districts already provide SROs and pay for them themselves. So if the state required SROs in every school, would those districts get reimbursed? Or would the state provide the money only for schools that don't already have officers? Or would the state and the districts split the cost?
Sen. Fair says while lawmakers won't pass anything this year, the bills are still alive for next year.
Rep. Phil Owens, R-Easley, chairs the House Education and Public Works committee, where the House version of the bill is. He says, "I think we will continue to be concerned about going forward with safety measures in the schools, but I think, from our state direction, that we're sort of relying on the school districts to address those unique to their school district."