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New Texas law requires armed guard at every school but there is not enough money to pay for it

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When Texas’s new school safety law goes into effect on Sept. 1, school districts will be required to have an “armed security officer” assigned to every campus during school hours.

That’s left school districts across the state scrambling to find the funds — and enough qualified officers — to meet the mandate at a time when many districts were already struggling to balance budgets and find enough staff.

To meet the new requirement, Texas lawmakers will give districts $15,000 per campus and an additional 28 cents per student for a total of $10 per student — an amount district leaders said falls far short of the cost to pay for the salary and equipment needed to outfit an officer.

San Antonio’s Northside ISD is one of the largest school districts in the state, with its own dedicated police force. At full staff, Northside’s police department has about 100 officers, but Northside has more than 120 schools.

We've long had our assigned officers at middle school, two assigned officers at every high school,” Northside spokesman Barry Perez said. “We've used basically a patrol model at elementary.”

Previously, Northside assigned officers to patrol a cluster of elementary schools close enough for them to rapidly reach each one as needed. To comply with the new law, Perez said Northside is looking for new officers and trying to get creative with scheduling.

We have a lot of scenarios in Northside where we have a middle school and on that same property right next door, an elementary school. And so, our police department has spent a lot of time this summer looking at schedules, looking at assignments so that that officer is able to be right there on hand, as they have been for both of those campuses,” Perez said.

“The biggest challenge — and it's not just something that we're going to face, it's going to be something that districts and even law enforcement agencies across the state face — is where do we find these individuals? You know, we're all going to be pulling from those same pool of police officers,” Perez added.

Smaller school districts and school districts without police departments have even more obstacles than Northside to comply with the law.

Edcouch-Elsa ISD in the Rio Grande Valley recently decided to use the state’s Guardian program to arm some of their security guards. Interim Superintendent Alda Benavides toldThe Monitor that the district needs half of their 16 security guards to volunteer to undergo the training needed under the Guardian program in order to meet the requirement for an armed guard on every campus. Edcouch-Elsa doesn’t have a police department.

For Edgewood ISD on San Antonio’s West Side, the main obstacle is financial.

“Obviously, it’s coming at a cost,” said Edgewood Superintendent Eduardo Hernández. “Through our allotment from the state, we were only getting $77,000 [last] year. We have a police department that runs close to $1,000,000.”

Hernández said Edgewood has prioritized its police department for many years, but now has to hire five more officers and three more dispatch in order to comply with the law and continue to meet the district’s other security needs.

“We're only 16 square miles, for perspective, so it doesn't take us long to get anywhere,” Hernández said. “You've seen all the stories about [Edgewood’s police officers] going in and replacing people's kitchens and doing ramps where people are handicapped. They're doing all sorts of other proactive work that really gets a support from the community.”

In order to pay for the additional police officers, and meet all of the district’s other needs, Edgewood adopted a deficit budget this year. Hernandez is even more worried about how he’ll balance the budget next year, once ESSER, the federal COVID relief funding, expires.

We're doing all this on our dime, but we need support from the state,” Hernández said.

San Antonio’s second largest school district, North East ISD, passed a resolution earlier this month to seek a waiver from the state due to difficulties complying with the law.

Human Resources Director Chyla Whitton said North East had several vacant police officer positions that they were unable to fill last year, even before the new law was passed.

“We had challenges there … prior to any requirement to have an armed officer at every campus,” Whitton said.

According to the resolution, North East doesn’t have enough police officers to assign one to every campus, and has been unable to hire more “due to insufficient applicants.”

Instead, North East’s board voted to explore the alternatives allowed in the law when a district is unable to find or afford enough police officers, including the possibility of arming other district employees under a Marshal or Guardian plan.

San Antonio ISD will consider a similar waiver when it meets next week.

Concerns about increasing police in schools

In addition to the financial and logistical concerns of district leaders, advocates are also worried the presence of an armed officer or security guard on every campus in Texas will increase students’ interactions with the criminal justice system without making them safer.

“The answer to gun violence in our schools is not more people with guns in our schools, whether it is by arming teachers or increasing school-based police,” said Paige Duggins-Clay in written testimony to lawmakers during the legislative session.

Duggins-Clay is the chief legal analyst for IDRA, the Intercultural Development Research Association. She pointed to instances where school leaders and officers left guns unattended on campus or accidentally discharged weapons, and cited research showing that school police have a negative and disproportionate impact on Black students and students with disabilities.

“Safe schools are built and maintained through strong, enduring relationships between diverse staff, educators, students and families within the school community. It is unacceptable to propose spending money on increasing armed personnel in schools instead of investing in resources that will actually make our children safer,” Duggins-Clay said.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.