Guns in Schools Legislation Review

There are four bills (could be more out there) that I am currently tracking that deal with guns in schools.  I wanted to break down these bills so that you can keep an eye on them. Some of these bills deal only with guns, but some can take away funding from schools if they don’t comply. As we have seen from the Great Hearts drama, the Tennessee Department of Education will withhold funds.

1. SB77/HB633 Faculty and staff allowed to carry firearms. By Senator Stacey Campfield and Representative Joshua Evans.

This legislation would allow faculty or staff, if properly trained, to carry firearms on K-12 public school property. If staff wants to carry a firearm, they must receive the same training that a school resource officer would have to complete. The Tennessee Code Annotated lists this as the training SROs most go through.

TCA 49-6-4217: Employment standards for school resource officers.

(a)  Training courses for school resource officers shall be designed specifically for school policing and shall be administered by an entity or organization approved by the peace officers standards and training (POST) commission.

(b)  School resource officers shall participate in forty (40) hours of basic training in school policing within twelve (12) months of assignment to a school. Every year thereafter they shall participate in a minimum of sixteen (16) hours of training specific to school policing that has been approved by the POST commission.

(c)  Within thirty (30) days of the beginning of the school term, each LEA shall publish and deliver to the commissioner an annual report of the employment standards adopted by the LEA. The report shall include a description of the LEA’s methods of enforcing the employment standards.

The bill also states that staff can only carry guns if there are no SROs in that school. Finally, the bill states that if the LEA bans guns, they are civilly liable for any criminal activity that takes place.

(B) Any local education agency that prohibits persons from possessing and carrying a handgun pursuant to subdivision (f)(2)(A) shall be civilly liable for any damages, personal injury or death that results from a criminal act by any person not authorized to be in the school in which the prohibition was in effect.

This bill does give local control to the individual LEAs to make the decision to allow staff to carry guns at school. It looks like many counties around middle Tennessee are trying to add SROs into every school. If a school district has SROs in every school, the LEA cannot allow guns in any school.

2.SB472/HB504 Requires SRO or similarly trained staff in every school. By Senator Frank Nicely and Representative Eric Watson.

This bill is very similar to the bill above. It would require each LEA to have a school resource officer OR similarly trained staff. A school district could save money by not hiring a SRO but allow a staff member to be trained.

The most important part of this bill comes next.

(c) If an LEA fails to establish a plan in compliance with this section or fails to follow a plan established pursuant to this section, the commissioner may withhold state funds, in an amount determined by the commissioner, from the LEA until the LEA is in compliance.

Yes. You have read that correctly. If a school decides not to have an armed staff member or SRO in their school, Kevin Huffman could withhold funds. As Nashville knows, that could end up in the millions.

3. SB481/HB324 Teachers may go armed. By Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Joe Carr.

This piece of legislation goes further than the previous two. This legislation would allow any employee of a pre-K or K-12 to carry a firearm if they meet certain requirements. Even if there is a SRO in the school, staff may still go armed.

The employees must meet these requirements:

  1. Have approval from the School Board.
  2. Posses a hand gun carry permit.
  3. Complete SRO training at least one year before school board approval.
  4. The LEA must notify the commissioner of education three times a year.

This bill also has local control. The staff member must get approval from the local school board before they can go armed. The school board could deny that request.

4. SB570/HB6 Allows K-12 school personnel to possess a firearm at school. By Senator Nicely and Representative Eric Watson.

This bill has some differences from the other Nicely/Watson bill including the types of bullets, the type of training, and liability coverage.

Here are the requirements to be able to possess a firearm at school:

  1. Must be a hand gun permit holder.
  2. Must take a 40 hour basic police training that is approved by the LEA. This is different than the SRO training that previous bills have cited.
  3.  Must use frangible bullets or similar bullets, as approved by the  Peace Officers Standards and Training commission.
  4. This part deals with the liability if the teacher hurts or kills someone.

(B) No local school district in which the director of schools authorizes a faculty or staff member to possess or carry a firearm pursuant to this  subdivision (e)(8) shall be held liable in any civil action for damages,
injuries, or death resulting from or arising out of a faculty or staff member’s actions involving a firearm carried or possessed on school property unless the board of education or superintendent knew of or
intentionally solicited or procured the faculty or staff member’s actions involving a firearm that resulted in the harm.

I am no lawyer, but this reads that a LEA cannot be held liable if a teacher accidentally shoots and kills a student unless the LEA “solicited or procured” the staff members actions.

That’s the first look at the guns in schools legislation. It is a long process to becoming law and many of these bills could change drastically with amendments. Keep following Tennessee Education Report for updates regarding these bills.

 

 

 

 

Vouchers, Charters, and Triggers — Oh My! A Preview of Education Legislation in the 2013 Tennessee General Assembly

Michelle Rhee seems to have her hands firmly around Tennessee Education policy as this legislative session begins. Rhee’s group, StudentsFirst, contributed more than $200,000 (or was it more?) in state legislative races in 2012 and they’re getting what they paid for. In short, Rhee’s top policy priorities are now the top priorities of the legislature and Governor Haslam. Here’s a rundown of these policies — all very much en vogue among the education reform elite. None particularly useful in moving Tennessee schools forward.

Vouchers

Or, as some like to call them, “Opportunity Scholarships.” After the Governor’s Task Force on Vouchers came up short of clear recommendations for a voucher scheme, Governor Haslam appeared to cool to the idea. He noted instead that legislators may bring forth a plan and he’d work with that. Then, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush came to town in early January and immediately following the Governor’s public event with Bush, Haslam announced he’d be introducing his own version of a voucher scheme. Never mind that the four largest school districts — the ones most likely to be impacted by a voucher plan — have all expressed opposition. And never mind that many private schools have indicated that they won’t accept the vouchers. Haslam has seen the light as shown to him by Bush and Rhee and he’ll now be moving to divert state education dollars to private schools. This in a state that ranks near the bottom in per pupil spending on public education.

Charters

Tennessee already has among the most liberal charter school laws in the country. Any student in any district that has charter schools may attend a charter school. The local school boards do, however, have control over authorizing a charter to operate in their district and control over closing charters if they are failing. All seemed to be going well with charters opening and growing in Memphis and Nashville. And then there was Great Hearts vs. Metro Nashville. While the Metro Nashville School Board approved several new charters in 2012 and has been fairly aggressive about recruiting charter operators to town, the Board rejected the charter application of Arizona-based Great Hearts Academy. They did so over concerns about diversity and legitimate questions over whether the school would truly meet the community’s needs. The State Board of Education over-ruled the Metro Board and directed them to reconsider. A new school board was elected. And the new board ALSO rejected Great Hearts. So, the state department of education, headed-up by Rhee’s ex-husband, Kevin Huffman, hit Metro with a $3.4 million penalty — withholding BEP funds the district was counting on. Now, Great Hearts is lobbying for a state charter authorizer — a state board that would be unelected and unaccountable — to be created. This charter authorizer would allow charter operators to bypass local school boards and be authorized to operate a charter in a district whether or not the locally elected school board wanted it.

Parent Trigger

The “parent trigger” concept is the idea that if a school is failing and 50% +1 of the parents in that school vote to do so, the parents can convert the school to a charter. Those parents may then “run” the school and hire/fire faculty and obtain other budgetary controls. This may sound like a reasonable proposition. However, in practice, it is a disaster. A school in Indiana recently “pulled the trigger” and the parents were stunned to discover the lack of available resources. The parents presented a list of demands including iPads for all students. The Board replied that in order for that demand to be met, a number of faculty would have to be let go. Parent trigger can also be used by sketchy charter operators to gain a foothold into a school. Rhee is of course behind this measure as well.

Each of these efforts appeals to policymakers because none require any new investment in Tennessee schools. The idea is that we already have money out there, and that if we just did these “new, cool things” we’d have better schools. They allow politicians to claim to be pro-education without making the hard decisions that would lead to meaningful new investments in our schools. Moreover, each of these policies has potentially disastrous effects on an already struggling school system. Stay tuned as the 2013 legislative session advances and these policies gain traction.