Tag Archives: firearms

Senate committee discusses school marshal, safety bills

Senate Education Committee meeting March 5, 2019.

The Senate Education Committee met today, March 5, 2019, to discuss a school safety bill and several bills dealing with school marshals. The hearing follows Gov. Greg Abbott’s declaration of school safety as an emergency issue for this legislative session.

Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) filed Senate Bill (SB) 11 yesterday, which includes a number of enforcement provisions addressing school safety plans. The bill also includes a loan repayment assistance program for school counselors in high-needs areas. ATPE supports the bill.

Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) kicked off the meeting by introducing SB 406, which would allow school marshals to carry a concealed firearm on their person. This would eliminate a provision in current law that restricts school marshals who are in regular, direct contact with students from carrying a firearm on their person.

Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) then laid out several complementary bills, including SB 243, SB 244, and SB 477. These bills would have the effect of increasing the allowable number of school marshals, allowing greater flexibility in their ability to carry firearms, and implementing a uniform license renewal date.

Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) introduced SB 811, which would extend liability protection to districts that employ school marshals.

Sen. Taylor explained SB 11 as a work in progress and the result of Gov. Greg Abbott’s school safety report and action plan, both of which came in response to last year’s deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. The bill includes requiring districts to adopt a multihazard emergency operations plan and create threat assessment teams. It would require additional grief and trauma training for school employees. The bill proposes a $50 per average daily attendance (ADA) allotment for mental health and school safety expenses and a one-time drawdown of economic stabilization fund (ESF) or “rainy day fund” dollars for school hardening.

Santa Fe ISD Board of Trustees President Rusty Norman testified that school hardening is not the only solution to school safety, and things like metal detectors require an enormous amount of ongoing funding. Norman stressed the importance of school counselors and mental health services to prevent tragedies.

The committee is expected to continue to meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays as needed, with the early focus on the emergency items declared by the governor.

 

House Appropriations hears from TEA and TRS

The House Committee on Appropriations met Monday to hear from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) on the issues of school safety, school finance, the teacher pension system, and active and retiree educator health insurance. Before delving into the meat of the hearing, Cmomittee Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulsher) also announced membership of the subcommittees that will be overseeing separate subject areas of the budget.

The subcommittee on Article III that oversees public education funding will be chaired by Rep. Greg Bonnen, and include Vice-chair Armando Walle and Reps. Mary Gonzalez, Donna Howard, Matt Schaefer, Carl Sherman, Lynn Stucky, and Gary VanDeaver.

House Appropriations Committee meeting Feb. 4, 2019

Other subcommittees include: the subcommittee on Articles I, IV, V; the subcommittee on Article II; the subcommittee on Articles VI, VII, VIII; and a new subcommittee on  Infrastructure, Resiliency, and Investment.

The committee heard first from Texas Education  Commissioner Mike Morath on the topic of school safety, including physical precautions such as metal detectors and alarms. Morath noted there is no single investment in school safety that will address all current weaknesses and that the agency isn’t and hasn’t traditionally been tasked or resourced to help districts with regard to mental health components of school safety.

TEA’s Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez followed with a high-level overview of how public schools are funded. Lopez explained how the basics of tax rates, weights, allotments, and adjustments work to together to create a districts M&O entitlement; facilities funding; charter funding; and recapture. Also mentioned during the discussion were statutory quirks and system complexities like the fact that the basic allotment is set in statute, but legislators each session have the option of funding at higher levels through the appropriations bill. The committee also discussed how in 2011 the legislature created a mechanism called the Regular Program Adjustment Factor that allows lawmakers to decrease the entire Foundation School Program (FSP) entitlement for every district with a single adjustment.

TR) Executive Director Brian Guthrie walked committee members through pension fund operations. Guthrie explained the TRS board’s decision to lower the assumed rate of return last summer to 7.25 percent down from 8 percent, which came as a result of market forecasts and input from the fund’s actuary. This caused the funding period for pension fund liabilities to extend from 32 years up to 87 years. Under state law, the TRS fund cannot offer a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to retirees unless the amortization period noted above is within 31 years.

Guthrie noted that the agency is requesting a 1.8 percent increase in the contribution rate in order to achieve a 30-year amortization period, which would allow for the possibility of a future increase in benefits, such as a COLA. This would cost $1.6 billion for the biennium from all funds.

Responding to a question from Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, Guthrie estimated the average pension payment for a TRS annuitant to be about $2,000 per month. This average figure covers all classes of public education employees, including auxiliary staff, such as bus drivers and custodial staff. For classroom teachers who have worked in Texas schools for 30 years, that amount is closer to $4,000 per month.

Guthrie then explained the healthcare programs under the agency’s umbrella: TRS-Care for retired educators and TRS-ActiveCare for active educators. Healthcare costs have skyrocketed in Texas, despite rising at a level slightly below the national average. This resulted in a $1 billion shortfall for TRS-Care heading into the previous legislative session, which was addressed by a temporary infusion of additional state funding, coupled with a significant increase in fees and reduction in benefits. The fund continues to run at a deficit.

Rep. Schaefer asked what impact a pay increase would have on the pension fund. Guthrie indicated that if all teachers saw a raise, there would be a negative short-term impact for TRS as a result of higher salary calculations for retiring members without the benefit of higher contributions. Guthrie suggested this could be mitigated by phasing in the salary increases’ impact on the calculation of a member’s highest five years of earnings. Guthrie suggested the short-term impact on TRS-Care would be positive.

Asked by Rep. Stucky how much it would cost to make TRS-Care sustainable, Guthrie suggested it would take more than $12-15 billion to create a corpus sufficient to produce funding as a result of investment returns. Even then, that process would take some time to get up and running. The deteriorating value of TRS-Care has led many retirees to leave the program, which exacerbates the financial stresses facing it. Guthrie added that the population was beginning to stabilize.

TRS-ActiveCare, which allows smaller and mid-size school districts to enjoy the benefits of group coverage through a combined risk pool, also faces affordability challenges due to statutory restrictions on how that program is funded. Five percent of districts – primarily the state’s largest districts, such as Austin and Houston – have opted out of TRS-ActiveCare. Last session, legislation was considered to allow districts a one-time opportunity to opt in or opt out, but such a bill was not passed ultimately.

Abbott outlines school shooting response plan

Texas Governor Greg Abbott unveiled his school safety action plan Wednesday in response to the deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. The 40-page plan, which can be read in its entirety on the governor’s website, is the end product of three roundtable discussions held last week in Austin which included shooting survivors, school administrators and activists on both sides of the gun control debate.

“No one provided a more powerful voice for those strategies than the victims themselves,” Abbott told reporters gathered in Dallas for the announcement.

“I am so proud and inspired by their strength and resiliency,” Abbott added. In summing up the roundtable discussions, the governor concluded, “There seems to be a consensus about the need to act.”

Abbott summarized the elements of his plan as ideas that could be put in place before the next school year begins. According to governor, this includes $70 million in funds to which the state already has access, as well as $40 million in federal funds from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 for which the state can compete. Altogether, Abbott claimed this adds up to $120 million in funds that do not require a legislative appropriation.

A crisis response team consisting of counselors from the National Organization of Victim Assistance (NOVA) has been deployed to Santa Fe, and the governor’s Criminal Justice Division (CJD) has an open reimbursement application. CJD grant funding is also available for costs associated with long-term behavioral health response by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). The state has already secured a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education for mental health services, teacher overtime, security staff and substitutes for Santa Fe ISD.

Many of the governor’s plan would require legislative action. Gov. Abbott is suggesting the state consider offering a $10,000 matching grant to schools that draw down federal funds to help pay for additional law enforcement on campus. Abbott also recommends a state policy authorizing schools to prioritize retired law enforcement officers and military veterans to serve as school resource officers.

Gov. Abbott quoted one student who said during the roundtable discussion, “Arming teachers and not knowing who is armed, that is what we need.”

Accordingly, the governor’s plan calls for increasing the number of “school marshals” – armed school personnel who have completed a specialized law enforcement training program – on public school campuses. To do so, Abbott is asking the Texas Legislature to direct funding to be used for additional training this summer at no charge to districts, as well as act to double to number of marshals allowed per campus to one for every one hundred students, up from one for every two hundred students under the current law. The plan also calls for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to issue a letter encouraging administrators to identify personnel to participate in the program. Additionally, Abbott is asking lawmakers to reduce the training required to be a marshal and to change the current requirement that marshals keep their firearms stored in a safe to instead allow them to keep firearms on their persons.

In a nod to local control, Gov. Abbott noted that the plan does not mandate school marshals, and acknowledged that some schools will not adopt the program.

“We understand that when it comes to education, one size simply does not fit all,” Abbott told reporters.

The governor’s plan recommends expanding the state’s active shooter training through the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) program, and CJD has provided a $1.25 million grant to offer the program free of charge to participating school districts and charter schools for the remainder of the calendar year.

In his remarks to media, the governor proposed reducing the number of entrances and exits in order to “harden” school campuses. This has already been incorporated into the design of many schools built following the Columbine shooting in 1999, and has significant implications regarding fire safety. The written plan recommends actions such as installing metal detectors and controlling access to campus facilities. The plan also calls for installing active shooter alarm systems separate and different from fire alarm systems.

The TEA will direct $62 million in additional federal funds under the Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant program to districts for improving campus safety, such as metal detectors as well as mental health programs.

Gov. Abbott spoke of the need to prevent people from becoming shooters in the first place, and recommended doing so by expanding the Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral (TWITR) project headed up by Texas Tech University, which current being utilized by ten different school districts to identify potential threats before they manifest. Abbott is asking lawmakers to provide $20 million to expand program further, eventually making it statewide.

In order to further prevent threats from turning into violence, Abbott recommends expanding campus crime stopper programs. The plan aims to make it easier for students to anonymously report suspicious behavior through an upgraded mobile app called iWatch Texas, which will is scheduled to launch June 7. Concomitant with this, Abbott recommends increasing the number of fusion centers that identify threats that appear on social media in order to allow law enforcement to intervene before an event occurs.

Abbott further suggested allowing educators to remove threatening students from the classroom through a zero-tolerance policy for students who commit assault. Noting that the 85th Texas Legislature passed a law removing teachers who assault students, the governor is now asking legislators for a law removing students who assault teachers.

The governor also outline a number of steps aimed to enhance gun safety.

“I can assure you, I will never allow second amendment rights to be infringed, but I will always promote responsible gun ownership,” said Abbott.

The governor pointed to current law requiring gun owners to safely store firearms from children under the age of 17. Because the Santa Fe shooter was 17 years old, his parents cannot be criminally charged under this statute. Gov. Abbott suggested lawmakers change the law to apply to “children 17 years of age and younger.”

Furthermore, the governor advocates requiring gun owners report lost or stolen firearms to police, and requiring courts report mental health adjudications within 48 hours, instead of the current 30 days, in order to prevent mentally ill people from purchasing firearms. Gov. Abbott is asking lawmakers to consider mental health protective order procedures that would allow family or law enforcement to remove firearms from the home of someone who has proven to be a danger to themselves and others. This would be accomplished in a manner respectful of due process, and for a specified period of time.

Gov. Abbott concluded by listing his top recommendation as greater investment in mental health, especially in crisis intervention counselors. Abbott called the plan outlined Wednesday “a starting point, not an ending place.”

The governor disclosed he will soon be participating in a program to educate the public about safe storage and use of gun locks, as well as pursuing a grant program to provide $1 million for 100,000 free gun locks.

Asked what must change over the summer, Gov. Abbott answered that schools must ramp up personnel and strategies to show a greater law enforcement presence. Additionally, the governor said schools should focus on active shooter training, going back over school safety plans and look into implementing TWITR program.

Questioned about calls from a handful of lawmakers for a special session this summer focused on school shootings, Gov. Abbott told reporters he remains open to calling one if there is a consensus of legislators in favor of passing specific legislation. Abbott also correctly noted the constraints of the legislative process would make any laws passed in a special session unlikely to take effect before the next school year begins.

Senate Education Committee acts on controversial bills

The Senate Education Committee is meeting today to hear several new bills and take votes on a number of pending bills that were heard at prior meetings.

This morning the committee voted to send SB 1408 to the full Senate. The controversial bill by Chairman Dan Patrick calls for assigning “A through F” ratings to schools under a new accountability system. ATPE and several other education groups oppose the bill. Committee members who voted for SB 1408 today were senators Patrick, Eddie Lucio, Donna Campbell, Robert Duncan, Ken Paxton, Kel Seliger and Larry Taylor. Senators Leticia Van de Putte and Royce West voted against the bill, expressing their concerns that labeling schools with letter grades will be detrimental to those schools’ students and communities. West called the bill “a rush to judgment.” Van de Putte emphasized the need to provide parents with more background information to explain the basis for any grades that are assigned. She urged her colleagues to consider implementing a summary report similar to what ATPE has recently proposed. Without giving parents more information, Van de Putte complained that the A through F proposal will be condescending to parents and will treat them as though they are not smart enough to understand the school performance data.

The committee also approved SB 17 by Chairman Patrick, which creates a training program for school employees authorized by their districts to carry a concealed handgun on school premises. The latest version of the bill allows for the collection of private donations to fund the training but provides for up to $1 million of state funding to be used for the program if there aren’t sufficient private funds. Although some committee members object to the use of state funds for the firearm training program, the bill was unanimously approved.

Other bills getting the nod this morning were SB 1406 and SB 1474, both of which call for reviews of CSCOPE instructional lessons. SB 1406 by Chairman Patrick creates an SBOE review process similar to the current process for review of textbooks. SB 1474 by Duncan is a bill supported by ATPE that requires districts to solicit input from local teachers and parents before adopting curriculum management systems such as CSCOPE.

Earlier this week, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony on several bills, including SB 1403 by Chairman Patrick, which ATPE opposes. The bill was inspired by recommendations of the Texas Teaching Commission. It calls for changing teacher appraisals and eliminating the state’s minimum salary schedule. SB 1403 would replace the salary schedule with a single starting salary for all teachers of $34,000. Teachers and other professionals currently covered by the salary schedule would lose the benefit of annual step increases, and districts would have the ability to decrease veteran teachers’ salaries, even as low as the proposed minimum of $34,000. This bill was left pending Tuesday but might be brought up again today.

The committee will reconvene later today upon adjournment of the full Senate to hear the remainder of the bills on its agenda. Stay tuned for updates.

Committees consider gun-related bills

Yesterday the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee heard a number of bills relating to guns on school campuses. Most of the testimony focused on four bills applicable to higher education settings. The committee also heard two bills that would create special training programs for school district employees authorized to carry a concealed handgun on a public school campus. HB 1009 by Rep. Jason Villalba would create a new school marshal position for employees with 80 hours of special training who would act as law enforcement officers for the limited purpose of stopping a violent offense on the campus. HB 1896 by Rep. Phil King calls for having school district employees authorized by their school board to carry a gun on campus if they hold a concealed handgun license and complete 20 hours of additional training; their identities would be kept confidential. All of the bills were left pending in the committee.

Next week the Senate Education Committee will consider SB 17 by Chairman Dan Patrick. It also calls for training school district employees who would be authorized to carry concealed handguns on campus.

ATPE State President Deann Lee’s school safety testimony

With 15 years in the classroom, nine years as an administrator and more than 15 years as an ATPE leader, it’s hard to imagine ATPE State President Deann Lee as being inexperienced at anything. However, yesterday was the first time she has ever testified before a legislative committee. As it turns out, she proved to be very adept at it.

Lee testified before a joint hearing of the Senate Education Committee and Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs & Homeland Security on school safety. Her testimony was well received and secured ATPE a seat at the table as this issue winds its way through the legislative process.

You can view the entire hearing by clicking on the link below. Lee’s testimony begins at the 1:49:33 mark.

Deann Lee Senate Education Committee testimony on school safety

 

ATPE state president comments on Dewhurst firearms proposal

ATPE State President Deann Lee is quoted in this morning’s San Antonio Express-News article on Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s announcement Friday that he wants the state to pay to train school officials to carry concealed weapons. Here’s an excerpt of the story with Lee’s comments:

Deann Lee, state president of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, is an educator with a handgun license and “I would not want to be one of the designees,” she said.

“I feel the margin of error and the incredible liability these ideas would place on a school district could be devastating,” Lee continued. “A tremendous amount of training would be needed before someone other than a law enforcement or military officer could make the decisions necessary in such a position of responsibility.”

Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/article/Dewhurst-pushing-teacher-gun-training-4187684.php#ixzz2Hmt6iSew

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