AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas schools could offer stipends of up to $25,000 to staff members who add the role of armed campus “sentinels” to their regular duties under a proposal advanced Tuesday by state lawmakers in response to the Uvalde classroom attack last year.
With U.S. mass shootings on a record pace so far in 2023, there have been new calls among some lawmakers for more armed personnel in schools. Also on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida proposed an $80 million federal program to fund armed officers in all U.S. schools.
Texas already lets teachers carry guns under a voluntary program that requires firearm lessons but has drawn relatively few takers. Under the new proposal, armed personnel must also train in identifying students with mental health issues.
“What I want to pay them for is hopefully getting the training needed to spot the children before we have a problem,” said Republican state Rep. Ken King, who authored the bill.
The legislation, which overwhelmingly passed the Texas House with bipartisan support, now goes to the Senate where its prospects are uncertain. Texas lawmakers have only a few weeks left to pass any school safety measures before adjourning on May 29.
That is just a few days after the anniversary of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers. Some of the families have spent months pleading for tougher gun laws — in particular one that would raise the age to purchase semi-automatic rifles — but GOP leaders have made clear they do not support new restrictions.
Under the Texas bill, teachers and staff of public and open-enrollment charter schools would be eligible to earn up to $25,000 extra for opting to be armed for campus security. They would also need to take courses in first aid, firearms training and mental health training, which would be added to the mental health training Texas lawmakers want to require for all school employees.
Other new school safety measures advancing in Texas would require at least one armed person — ranging from a police officer to a school staff member — on all public school campuses. A bill requiring silent panic buttons in classrooms is now headed to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature.
Texas state Rep. James Talarico, a Democrat and former teacher who voted against Tuesday’s proposal, said he worried the bill would create an incentive for teachers struggling financially to start carrying weapons.
“Even teachers who don’t want to carry guns may feel like they are financially pressured to do so just so they can provide for their families,” Talarico said.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012, Texas created a voluntary school marshal program in which applicants must first be approved by their school districts, pass a psychological exam and receive 80 hours of training, including in live-shooter scenarios.
In its first four years, the program certified just 33 school marshals across the state, which has about 9,000 campuses. By summer 2022, shortly after Uvalde, there were still fewer than 400.