Feb 28, 2024 - News

Not all Texas schools hiring armed guards, despite new law

Illustration of a police uniform standing with no person inside it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Houston ISD is among the Texas school districts that haven't hired armed security officers at every campus, as required by a new state law, because of a lack of funding.

Why it matters: After 19 students and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, the Republican-led Legislature passed new mental health and school safety standards last year.

  • A key provision was posting an armed officer at every public school.

Catch up quick: House Bill 3, which went into effect in September, expanded and reinforced existing school safety efforts, such as required mental health training.

  • The law allocated $15,000 per campus and $10 for each student, but lawmakers did not approve an additional $800 million to help districts comply with the standards.
  • That left many districts without enough money to hire additional officers, who can cost $80,000 to $100,000 per year, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.

Yes, but: School districts can vote for a good-cause exception to the rule by providing an alternative safety plan to the requirements for the time being if they can't afford personnel or can't find qualified candidates.

Between the lines: Gov. Greg Abbott blocked efforts to boost school funding, saying he wanted lawmakers to first pass a bill to provide taxpayer money for private school tuition.

  • Repeated attempts to pass voucher legislation ran aground as Democrats and rural Republicans opposed it.

The big picture: It's not clear how many districts have hired a security officer at each campus.

  • The Texas Education Agency does not require districts to share compliance information, and no entity tracks how many schools in the state use good-cause exceptions to comply with the law.

The intrigue: Other districts that have sought good-cause exceptions include Dallas, Leander and San Antonio ISDs, each approving alternative safety plans like ​​employing school marshals.

Zoom in: HISD has police officers in all of the district's middle and high schools and plans to add armed security guards at all the elementary schools over the next three years.

  • As of Monday, the district had added private armed security guards at 40 of their elementary schools. The district has 160 elementary schools.

By the numbers: Two decades ago, 108 school districts in Texas had their own police departments.

  • Now, 400 districts, or about a third of districts in Texas, employ officers.

What they're saying: "School district policing is not (like) policing on the streets," Texas School District Police Chiefs Association president Bill Avera said.

  • "The school becomes the community, and you have to have relationship building, and so it's not a place just to assign someone, but to identify a person who has the character traits and personality to make a positive impact in the life of a student, so there were challenges with the number of applicants available."
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