COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Governor Henry McMaster is pushing for state funding that would allow for a school resource officer to be in every public school in the state.
That pledge came at Thursday's summit for school safety in Columbia in which teachers, administrators, and law enforcement officers spoke about how to best keep schools in South Carolina safe.
Gov. McMaster is asking for $5 million in the state's general fund budget to cover the cost of hiring the additional officers. The budget takes effect in July and currently consists of around $8.2 billion.
According to data from the South Carolina Department of Education, of the 1,195 public schools in the state, around 50 percent have a school resource officer. However, in some districts, like Kershaw County, officers can serve more than one school.
As a result, around 590 public schools around the state could lack a resource officer.
"We have three school resource officers that cover a minimum of nine schools in the elementary section in the county," Kershaw County Chief Deputy Jack Rushing said. "There is not a full-time SRO in every elementary school in Kershaw County at this time."
Rushing said while the sheriff's department would like to see a school resource officer in every school building in the county, funding becomes a problem.
"Like with any service, there's an associated cost," he said. "There's a cost upfront and then there is a recurring cost every year."
Reading said it costs around $118,000 to hire and train a new deputy within the department. For every year they're on the force, he said there is an $80,000 recurring cost.
"It comes down to taxpayer money," he said. "We put together our budget at the county council approves it. It is up to them what our budget allows us to do."
With costs totaling around $118,000 to hire a new deputy, equipping 590 public schools that currently do not have a school resource officer with one would cost upwards of $60 million in the first year. In years following, costs could amount to more than $40 million.
As the state budget stands, no money currently has been allocated to the hiring of additional resource officers.
The pledge made by Gov. McMaster on Thursday was not included in the House's proposed budget. Included in the budget, which will be debated in the coming days, is $500,000 dedicated to mental health services in schools.
Evelyn Hinds has a daughter in the Richland Two School District. Her family is originally from New York and said schools there have metal detectors at the entrances.
"We don't want to make the schools feel like a prison, but maybe that would deter people from considering doing bad things," she said.
Her daughter, Victoria Serrano-Berry said her school has a couple resource officers staffed full-time. She said they do a good job making her feel safe, however, she thinks more can always be done.
"The doors lock from the inside and the doors are closed to the hallway," she said. "But kids are still allowed to bring their bookbags into class, like, you don't have to leave it in your locker."
Deputy Rushing warns parents that even with a school resource officer in every school, it does not rule out the possibility of something bad taking place.
However, he said, it does foster a relationship and bond between students and the officer, which can often lead to thwarted threats or plans for violence.