AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The vision of armed officers in every school in Texas clashes with the reality of a lack of money and police as a new mandate took effect Friday, showing just how much of a goal that more states are adopting in response to the US cycle of mass killings proving unfeasible in many communities.
Dozens of Texas’ largest school districts, home to much of the state’s 5 million students, are reopening their classrooms without meeting the state’s new requirements for armed officers on every campus. The mandate is a pillar of a safety bill signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who this year rejected calls for gun control despite angry pleas from parents of children killed in the massacre. the school of Uvalde.
Texas has nearly 9,000 public school campuses, second only to California, making this requirement the largest of its kind in the United States.
“We’re all supportive of the idea,” said Stephanie Elizalde, superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, which has more than 140,000 students. “The biggest challenge for all superintendents is that this is yet another unfunded mandate. »
These difficulties lay bare the limits of calls to place armed guards in every school, more than a decade after the National Rifle Association championed the idea in the face of intense pressure for tougher gun laws. after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012.
The new Texas law allows exceptions but also does not require districts to report compliance, making it difficult to know how many schools meet the standard.
But obviously many are not.
The Associated Press contacted 60 of Texas’ largest school districts to find out if they were in a position to start the school year in compliance. The districts, which cover much of Texas from rapidly growing suburbs to the US-Mexico border, together house more than 2.7 million students.
Not all districts responded and some declined to discuss staffing levels, citing security concerns. But statements to the AP, along with a review of school board meeting actions and statements made to local media, show that at least half have been unable to meet the highest standards of the law.
A major challenge is recruiting staff from elementary schools, where there are traditionally fewer staff. But those campuses came under calls for more protection after a gunman killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers last year at Robb Elementary School – a tragedy in which chess does not are not due to the lack of police, who arrived on the scene within minutes, but the inaction of hundreds of officers once they arrived.
Abbott’s spokesperson did not respond to questions about the law’s implementation. The Texas Education Agency did not respond to questions about the concerns raised by schools and instead provided criteria for districts to request an exception.
“The local aspect of these exceptions is determined by the district school board, and they must develop an alternate safety standard that the district can comply with,” spokesman Jake Kobersky said.
But local school officials say the extra funding Texas has given districts under the new law, about $15,000 per campus, is barely enough. In Dallas, Elizalde said an additional $75,000 would be needed for each additional agent in Texas’ second-largest district.
In the fight to comply with new Texas standards, options some districts had never considered before are now on the table: some are turning to private security companies or arming more staff and teachers.
“It’s probably new to everyone at this stage of the game. It’s expensive,” said Charles Hollis, director of operations at L&P Global Security in Dallas, which until this year hadn’t put guards in public schools. The company now has contracts with four growing districts and is in talks with four more.
The combination of the lack of money for officers, and the lack of money to fill thousands of positions across the United States, is an ongoing battle in cities across the country. Last month, a small town in Minnesota completely lost its police department after officers quit over low pay and sought better opportunities elsewhere.
The lack of officers nationwide has hampered attempts by other states to patrol all schools. Florida struggled in 2018 when the state became the first in the nation to require an armed officer on every campus following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In Tennessee, following an elementary school shooting in March, the state offered police departments additional funding to staff each school. But police in Nashville, Tennessee’s largest city, refused most of the money.
“With our staffing levels, we cannot take 70 officers off the streets of Nashville,” Nashville Metro Police Chief John Drake told reporters in July.
Joy Baskin, an education consultant with the Texas Association of School Boards, said all terms have a price. “But I think it’s the most important thing I can remember in over 25 years of discussions with districts,” she said.
In San Antonio, the Southside Independent School District was able to start the year with enough officers, who earn between $23 and $30 an hour. Don Tijerina, the district police chief, said it wouldn’t take long for them to find jobs elsewhere.
“At the end of the day: the demand is so high right now,” he said.
LaFleur reported from Dallas. Associated Press writer Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.
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