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As Budget Talks Approach, Gov. Cooper Proposes $130 Million For School Safety

School bus
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

Gov. Roy Cooper is calling for $130 million in the state budget to go toward student safety and mental health measures.

Cooper outlined the provisions in his budget proposal Thursday at Cedar Ridge High School in Hillsborough. Included in his request to state lawmakers is $65 million for public safety upgrades.

"It can be used for system upgrades, equipment purchases, monitoring systems, panic alarms, improved doors and other items to prevent and to respond to threats at school," Cooper said.

The Legislature will make budget adjustments in the short session that starts next month. Measures that stress improvements in school safety and mental health have gotten traction around the country since the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 people died.

Cooper's proposal includes another $40 million to go toward more school nurses, counselors and psychologists. A press release from the governor's office said such positions would treat "youth mental health needs early before they become more serious."

"Superintendents have - in order to be able to provide more teachers and more classroom space - had to cut back on these support personnel, and we know that that is critical to school safety and the health of these children, so this is a start," Cooper said.

The remaining funds would support other mental health initiatives, more school resource officers and risk management plans.

The governor was speaking from the Orange County Schools, where the district has a full-time nurse in every school, something many other districts can't afford.

"Being in the school all day, every day, allows me the opportunity to build relationships with staff and students," said Cedar Ridge High School nurse Jennifer Pepin. "I am able to be accessible to students who are often dealing with a wide range of social, emotional, mental and physical challenges in their lives."

The Governor's Crime Commission is also creating a school safety committee of 19 members from public schools, law enforcement, and juvenile justice programs among others. The Legislature has its own committees studying school safety.

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