Flanked by several Dallas-area lawmakers on May 30, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott laid out a 40-page school safety plan in response to a southeast Texas school shooting that left 10 people dead.
At the heart of his proposal: “hardening” Texas schools, in part by providing money to districts that join existing state programs for arming school staff. The idea received immediate pushback from many educators, who don’t like the idea of guns in schools and worry that programs that arm teachers would be too expensive in a state that’s already struggling to fund education.
But those who support the idea say armed staff can help stop a dangerous gunman. And, they say, the school marshal plan that Abbott is touting wouldn’t actually cost that much.
“The latest that I heard is that the training for each marshal is about $500,” said state Rep. Jason Villalba, the Dallas Republican who authored the bill that created the Texas school marshal program Abbott wants to expand.
Under the program, schools can designate one employee for every 400 students a marshal. And, Villalba noted, nearly 80 percent of Texas’ school districts have fewer than 3,000 students. That means most Texas districts, in theory, could have seven or eight marshals at most.
Aside from training, Villalba said, the only other costs associated with the program are the costs of buying the guns, ammunition and a lock box (which is currently required for marshals who directly interact with students). Villaba’s measure doesn’t require schools that utilize the marshal program to get liability insurance, but districts may choose to do so, he said.
It’s also possible the cost to train school marshals could decrease. In outlining his proposal, Abbott advocated for streamlining the training course — currently a “burdensome” 80 hours.
Jerry Patterson, Texas’ former land commissioner who helped get the state’s concealed handgun law passed in 1995 when he was a state senator, said the other costs to schools would be minimal.
“You can buy a pretty decent semi-automatic 9mm for concealed carry for $500 or less,” Patterson said, adding that a lock box costs $100 to $150. “I don’t think expense is all that significant. The firearm and the ammo is so cheap it should not be a factor. It costs nothing.”
Some smaller districts disagree. The state initially had a grant program in place to help districts cover training costs associated with the marshal program, but the money ran out and funding has not been reauthorized. Craig Bessent, assistant superintendent of Wylie ISD and one of the first school marshals in Texas, pointed to a lack of funding to implement the program at a Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools & School Security on Wednesday.
But one of the biggest worries for some school officials has nothing to do with cost. It’s a safety concern.
“I’m not an armed guard, did not sign up to be one, and have no intention of becoming one,” Tricia Cave, a high school teacher in Pasadena, wrote in The Texas Tribune’s Facebook group, This is Your Texas. “Teachers are not police officers.”
The idea of arming Texas school personnel is not new. It first emerged after a shooting in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which left 28 dead — including 20 children and the shooter. Villalba authored the bill that created Texas’ school marshal program shortly thereafter.
Abbott’s plan doesn’t mandate arming teachers. Rather, it would provide funds to schools that utilize Texas’ school marshal program — one of two programs that arm teachers in more than 200 of Texas’ 1,000-plus school districts.
A majority of Texans say they support arming teachers. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll conducted in the days immediately following the Santa Fe shooting, 54 percent of Texas parents who have children in public schools support arming teachers and other school officials.
But several school districts say they’re still hesitant to participate in such programs.
“To expect an elementary teacher or high school teacher to be able to jump into action with limited training is hard for me to believe,” said Eanes ISD Superintendent Tom Leonard. “The risk with that many guns in the school makes it seem like there will be more harm than good. “
Several Texas teacher associations are also discouraging schools from arming their employees. The price to implement the program may be low, they say, but the real cost comes from the potential harm that may come to teachers and their students.
“While the teacher is wasting time and endangering his or her life trying to find their gun, they should be locking the doors, putting a desk or something against the door and comforting his or her students,” said Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association.
Note: This story was inspired by a discussion on education policy happening now in our Facebook group, This is Your Texas. Sign up here to join the conversation.
Disclosure: The Texas State Teachers Association has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.