AUSTIN (AP) — A plan to train armed teachers for gunfights in classrooms or at campus sporting events or board meetings won approval Thursday from the Texas Senate Education Committee and now heads to the full chamber.
Texas already allows teachers and other school personnel who have previously been certified to carry concealed weapons to do so in classrooms with the permission of their local school districts. The bill's sponsor, Houston Republican Sen. Dan Patrick, said only three school boards statewide currently allow that, but others have authorization pending.
The proposal calls for 16 hours of training to instruct teachers how to first conceal children during an attack, and then return fire. It would apply to charter schools as well as public schools that don't already employ armed guards.
Several measures to extend the reach of guns in schools are moving through the Legislature, which opened its biannual session a month after 20 schoolchildren were killed in a mass shooting in Connecticut. The National Rifle Association has called for an armed guard in every school in America.
In order to obtain a concealed handgun license, all Texans must complete 10 hours of classroom instruction in safety and responsibility, and pass a shooting test at a gun range. Patrick's bill would bolster that training for teachers, with special emphasis on classroom emergencies.
But a separate bill that passed Thursday in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and was placed on an expedited calendar to clear the full Senate would reduce the training time required for a license to just four hours of instruction. Supporters say it's a Second Amendment issue and that the current classes are long and redundant.
The Education Committee, which Patrick chairs, voted to send his measure to the Senate 9-0, but only after modifying it to allow teachers and school officials with handgun licenses to carry firearms at campus board meetings and University Interscholastic League events.
Lubbock Republican Sen. Robert Duncan pushed for the expansion, saying officials representing many school districts told him they support the idea of additional gun training to protect students and want their personnel to be able to do so in football stadiums or gyms that host basketball games or debate competitions.
The bill was originally set to cost more than $9.3 million. But the version approved Thursday authorizes a maximum $1 million, while allowing school districts to seek charitable donations to raise additional funds.
Sen. Kel Seliger said he'd rather not allocate any state money toward classroom firearms training.
"I think my problem is spending public money on something that should be paid for by the school district, if they wish, or by the teachers themselves," the Amarillo Republican said.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, a Brownsville Democrat, said the state may not spend the full $1 million if districts can get sizeable donations from businesses and residents to cover the training.
"I think we're really going to have a lot of people who want to contribute," Lucio said.
Patrick offered a more emotional response: "We're going to pass a budget of about $200 billion, in that neighborhood."
"Potentially we would stop a bill from passing that could save the lives of students with a teacher that's trained, over $1 million?" he asked. "With all the money that we're spending, there's nothing more important."
The bill could still face a tough road in the Senate. Democrats have been quick to point out that the Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public schools and education grants in 2011, but now is finding money for on-campus gun training.
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