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Education
In this series, we look at needs typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates.

New Law Requires Special Ed Classrooms to Install Security Cameras Upon Request

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Texas school districts will be required to have cameras in special education classrooms if a parent, school board trustee or staff member requests it, starting in the 2016-2017 school year.  The cameras are aimed at improving safety for more vulnerable students, but some education groups say it’s an unfunded mandate for school districts.

During the legislative session, dozens of parents testified in support of the camera proposal. Many parents who testified spoke about their children who were abused or isolated for long periods of time.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, who wrote the bill, says the cameras would provide protection for students who can’t protect themselves.

“The incidents and severity of abuses that have occurred in special education classrooms has led me to believe that cameras in self-contained special education classrooms are necessary to protect students, especially those who are non-verbal," Lucio says.

Janna Lily with the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education agrees that safety is a priority. But she says this bill makes school districts pay for the cameras, and that’s a problem.

“School districts only have X amount of money. And with that X amount of money that’s limited, there’s serious things that have to happen,” Lily says.

The bill does allow the Texas Education Commissioner to create a grant program if there’s extra money for public education. But Lily says that’s a big ‘if.’

“So when the legislature starts adding on more things that we have to do, where is that going to come from if something else doesn’t get cut? So something isn’t going to happen in order for this to be provided,” she says.

The cheapest camera costs around $150, and legislative staff estimates that could cost school districts statewide more than $2.5 million, plus the cost of installation and maintenance.

As the law reads, schools will only have to install cameras if requested by a parent, staff member or a school board. In the Austin Independent School district, it’s unclear how the district will decide to handle the new law, or find the money to pay for the cameras.  

*This post was updated to clarify the law goes into effect in the 2016-2017 school year

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