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House considers funding for school safety

SANTA FE – New Mexico has not been untouched by a national spate of school gun violence, with Aztec still reeling from a December shooting that left two high-schools students – and the 21-year-old gunman – dead.

In response, a bill passed by the Senate would authorize up to $40 million in public school infrastructure dollars for school security measures over the next four years.

Specifically, that money could be spent on card-swipe door entry systems, metal directors, surveillance cameras and bulletproof windows.

Several school administrators have told lawmakers during the ongoing 30-day session that there’s a need for such upgrades, especially in rural parts of the state.

“It’s a shame many districts in the state have to (currently) make decisions between fixing roofing leaks and making security improvements,” Mosquero Municipal Schools Superintendent Tommy Turner testified Monday during a House committee hearing.

During the Aztec High School shooting, the gunman shot and killed two students, Casey Marquez and Francisco “Paco” Fernandez, in a school bathroom and hallway but was unable to enter classrooms because the school had gone on lockdown.

But the lockdown was rudimentary, at least in one case, as a substitute teacher barricaded herself and 17 students in an office room by wedging a sofa against the door.

The shooter eventually shot and killed himself after police arrived on the scene.

New Mexico has also had other school shootings, including a January 2014 incident in which a 13-year-old Roswell boy opened fire with a modified shotgun in a school gymnasium, injuring two fellow students.

Meanwhile, the legislation being discussed at the Roundhouse, Senate Bill 239, has already passed the Senate on a 40-0 vote and could go to the House floor by as soon as today.

If approved by the House, the measure would go to Gov. Susana Martinez for final approval.

In its current form, it would allow school districts to apply for grants to obtain some of the funding earmarked for school security projects. An existing public school infrastructure council would then make decisions about doling out the funding.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, who said New Mexico cannot take school safety for granted any longer.

“It is critical that we give our state’s schools the authority and the funding to put protections in place to protect our kids,” Muñoz said in a statement. “School shootings have become all too common.”

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