- Associated Press - Friday, March 1, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The parents of a slain student said Friday that Kentucky lawmakers took an important first step to enhance school safety with a bill intended to boost security and counseling.

Brian and Teresa Cope, the parents of Preston Cope, issued a statement the day after lawmakers sent the measure to Gov. Matt Bevin. Their son and another 15-year-old student, Bailey Holt, were killed in last year’s shooting at Marshall County High School in western Kentucky. More than a dozen others were injured.

“We are happy to see the first of many steps achieved,” the Copes said in thanking legislators. “There are five angels smiling down from heaven today.”

It was a reference to their son, Holt and the three students - Nicole Hadley, Jessica James and Kayce Steger -killed in the 1997 Heath High School shooting in Kentucky.

“We must not get complacent,” the Copes said in their statement. “We have to continue being their voice, so that all of our children can remain safe in our schools.”

The bill was a top priority for lawmakers in this year’s legislative session. It sets new goals, including seeking security officers in every school and at least one counselor for every 250 students. But it comes with no money, so school districts won’t be able to comply right away. Still, Republican budget leaders in both chambers have vowed to provide the money next year, despite not knowing how much it might cost or where the money will come from.

In a phone interview Friday, Brian Cope said that passage of this year’s bill was the first hurdle to clear in statewide efforts to strengthen school safety.

Next will be finding money to achieve the bill’s goals, he said. It should rank as a top priority when lawmakers put together the state’s next two-year budget, he said.

“We have to find ways to fund this,” Cope said. “This is a must. We have to protect our children, whatever means necessary.”

Senate President Robert Stivers said during a debate Thursday that a statewide assessment is needed to determine the funding needs to carry out the bill’s goals.

A bipartisan special committee of Kentucky lawmakers spent nearly a year discussing potential school safety legislation with stakeholders. They settled on the bill that focuses heavily on training school officials for how to plan for and respond to mass shootings.

The legislation created new positions, including a state school security marshal, and ordered school districts to designate school safety coordinators. And it sets a goal of each school district having at least one counselor for every 250 students by 2021.

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