Posted: Jan 28, 2013 4:27 PM
Updated: Jan 28, 2013 4:27 PM
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Arming teachers could provide a critical measure of safety for students until police arrive in the event of a campus shooting, but could also put those teachers at "high risk" of being shot by responding officers, Texas state lawmakers were told Monday.
Lawmakers are grappling with the idea of allowing more non-law enforcement personnel to bring guns into classrooms in the wake of last month's shootings at a Connecticut elementary school.
The guns issue has rapidly escalated into one of the most emotional decisions facing lawmakers this session and Monday's joint hearing of the Senate education and agriculture, rural affairs and homeland security committees was the first to take public testimony on the matter.
Superintendents of three small rural school districts that allow some teachers and administrators who have concealed handgun licenses to bring their weapons to class, told lawmakers they consider it a critical safeguard for saving student lives in the event of a shooter.
"If you can stop it in its inception, you have an obligation to do that," said David Thweatt, superintendent of Harrold Independent School District near the Oklahoma border.
The Van school district east of Dallas voted last week to allow concealed handguns in classrooms. Superintendent Don Dunn said it was in direct response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which 26 people were killed, including 20 children.
Although each of the Van district elementary, middle and high school campuses are within two miles of the Van police department, officials calculated it would take at least five minutes for police to respond to an emergency call of a shooter on campus.
"We are completely defenseless during that five-minute gap. At least we have a chance to protect our kids," Don Dunn said. "We are not the police. We are not asking them to be the police. We are asking them to fill that gap until the police get there."
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is pushing a plan to provide state-paid special weapons, tactics and response training for teachers and administrators if school districts ask for it. That idea has been opposed by the Texas State Teachers Association. The state's largest teachers group said educators should not be asked to double as a professional security force.
SPEAKER SAYS TEXAS NEEDS MORE THAN TAX CUTS
Texas needs more than tax cuts to thrive and will require investments in education, infrastructure and water to keep growing, House Speaker Joe Straus told the Texas Association of Broadcasters on Monday.
The San Antonio Republican said the state's rapidly growing population and economy means the state must spend more on what he called the government's core responsibilities. The speaker oversees the Texas House and sets the legislative agenda.
"I believe in the importance of cutting spending wherever possible and keeping taxes low," Straus said. "But we also have to recognize that a healthy business climate needs more than low taxes. Job creators want to know that Texas will have water, roads and a work force that they will need in order to thrive."
Straus set out his priorities for the 83rd Legislature a day before Gov. Rick Perry was scheduled to give his State of the State speech. Perry has said state spending on education has been "phenomenal" and suggested that tax cuts might be in order.
The 2011 Legislature cut government services by $27 billion, and Straus said lawmakers will have to restore some of those cuts with a supplemental spending bill in March. Lawmakers shorted Medicaid, the health plan for the poor and disabled, by $4.8 billion, and it will run out of money if a bill isn't passed soon.
"We are in a significantly better fiscal position than we were two years ago," he said. "We're going to have to go back and correct some of the things that we did last session."
AUDIT BLASTS TEXAS CANCER AGENCY OVER TRANSPARENCY
A troubled $3 billion cancer-fighting agency in Texas under criminal investigation must address "significant issues" with accountability and transparency, according to a critical state audit obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
Auditors found that the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas could not produce records surrounding several lucrative taxpayer-funded grants. They also said the agency's former executive director recommended three projects for funding even though scientific peer review councils failed to endorse the projects. That trio of applicants wound up receiving more than $56 million combined, according to the State Auditor's Office.
"By not ensuring that all grant applications are properly evaluated and documented, CPRIT weakens its ability to ensure that its award decisions best align with the agency's mission," the report said.
State auditors had not yet officially released the 100-page report before copies began to trickle out Monday. But the audit had been eagerly anticipated by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have lined up to blast the beleaguered agency in recent weeks and demand sweeping reforms.
TEXAS CHARTER SCHOOLS COMPLAIN ABOUT STATE FUNDS
An official representing charter schools in Texas says that a state ban on funding buildings and other facilities means that those schools must divert money away from students.
Denise Pierce, the general counsel for the Texas Charter Schools Association, testified Monday in a lawsuit that more than 600 school districts brought against the state. School officials say lawmakers did not provide sufficient funding for public schools.
Charter schools joined the lawsuit and complain that they only receive per-student funding. That means the schools must spend money out of their education program for facilities. Public school districts can raise money through bond propositions and some state support.
Attorneys for the state pointed out that charter schools have more flexibility than public schools and lawmakers expect them to be more efficient.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"I think it's pretty amazing that, running a radio station in East Texas, that he didn't think he'd made enough enemies." Texas Speaker Joe Straus to the Texas Association of Broadcasters on the decision by Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, to run in 2012 for a seat in the Legislature.