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EduLege Tracker 6-21-18

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EduLege Update Volume VI, Number 37
June 21, 2018
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

They’re still not buying it…

Governor Greg Abbott’s proposal to arm more Texas educators in the wake of the Santa Fe school shooting continues to receive pushback from many teachers and administrators, who don’t like the idea of “packing heat” in schools. 

They also believe that the programs that arm teachers will be too expensive for a state that’s already struggling to adequately fund public education.

But others say that a well-armed armed school staff can help stop a dangerous person. And, they argue that the state’s current school marshal plan that Governor Abbott wants to expand wouldn’t actually cost that much.

“The latest that I heard is that the training for each marshal is about $500,” said State Representative Jason Villalba, the Dallas Republican who authored the bill that established the original Texas School Marshal program that the governor now wants to expand.

Under the program, schools can designate one employee for every 400 students as a marshal. And, as Representative Villalba noted, nearly 80 percent of Texas’ school districts have fewer than 3,000 students. That means most Texas districts, in theory, could have only seven or eight marshals.

But one of the biggest worries for most school officials has nothing to do with cost. It’s a safety concern.

“I'm not an armed guard, did not sign up to be one, and have no intention of becoming one,” Tricia Cave, a high school teacher in Pasadena, wrote recently on Facebook. “Teachers are not police officers.”

Most Texans say they support arming teachers.

According to a recent Quinnipiac Poll which was conducted in the days immediately following the Santa Fe shooting, 54 percent of Texas parents who have children in public schools support arming teachers and other school officials.

But several school districts say they’re still hesitant to participate in such programs.

“To expect an elementary teacher or high school teacher to be able to jump into action with limited training is hard for me to believe,” said Eanes superintendent Tom Leonard. “The risk with that many guns in the school makes it seem like there will be more harm than good.”

Several Texas teacher associations are also discouraging schools from arming their employees. The price to implement the program may be low, they say, but the real cost comes from the potential harm that may come to teachers and their students.

“While the teacher is endangering his or her life trying to find their gun, they should be locking the doors, putting a desk or something against the door and comforting his or her students,” said Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association.

School safety is number one…

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says school safety will be his top focus—if he returns as presiding officer of the State Senate—when state legislators convene in Austin for the 85th legislative session next January.

"School security will be our number one issue," Lieutenant Governor Patrick told thousands of delegates last week at the 2018 Republican Party of Texas Convention, placing the blame for school shootings on a godless society.

"It's our culture. We kicked God out of school,” he told delegates.

Lieutenant Governor Patrick, who faces Democrat Mike Collier in November, also says teacher pay and lowering property taxes will also be back on his legislative agenda next year—if he’s re-elected.

"We're going to freeze all taxes for people over 65," Lieutenant Governor Patrick said, to loud applause from the partisan crowd.

The Lieutenant Governor would not say whether he would again push a so-called “bathroom bill” next session, restricting which restrooms and dressing rooms transgender students could use. But he did hit back at opponents of the bill, which he called “the privacy bill.”

"The media loves to attack me for leaning on the privacy bill and they love to criticize Republicans for standing for it, but we didn't start the fight," Lieutenant Governor Patrick said, pointing to then-President Barack Obama's 2016 guidelines that told U.S. public school to accommodate transgender students. "The only thing we did in Texas is we fought back."

The “bathroom bill” passed in Lieutenant Governor Patrick's Republican-controlled Senate. But it failed twice in the Texas House.

Twenty percent and growing…

There are now more than 200 school districts in Texas that have adopted policies allowing staff to carry firearms—a number that spiked in the weeks following a deadly high school shooting in Florida in February, and which continued to increase following the Santa Fe High School shooting last month.

Dax González with the Texas Association of School Boards reports that there are now 217 districts allowing staff to carry weapons on campus.

That number stood at 172 districts in February, before a student gunman killed 17 people at a school in Parkland, Florida.

Mr. González says the number “may continue to grow as districts continue to revise policies” in the aftermath of the May 18 shooting at Santa Fe that left 10 dead.

The 217 districts represent just over 20 percent of the 1,023 independent school districts in Texas.

Better health care is their number one priority…

A majority of Texas residents want the state to spend more on health care programs and expand Medicaid services for poor families, according to the results of a new poll.

The Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation polled more than 1,300 Texans by phone about their health care views and what they want the Texas Legislature to address when it convenes again in January.

“Overall, the survey finds that health care is a priority for Texans,” the authors said in the study summary. “There is also a robust level of support for state action to expand coverage to low-income adults in Texas, including through Medicaid.”

Of the 54 percent who said they want more state funds devoted to health care programs many identified as Democrats (69 percent), and a majority of them also identified as Black (77 percent).

The majority of those surveyed said the Legislature’s top priorities should be lowering the costs of medical services and prescription drugs and reducing the number of women who die from causes to related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Texas is one of 17 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid services under the Affordable Care Act, and it now has the largest number of uninsured residents in the country. According to Kaiser, 21 percent of Texans are uninsured, compared with the national average of 12 percent.

The full study, which has a margin of error plus or minus three percent, can be viewed here.

Full-time health care for most…

The Austin school board has approved a $7.1 million student health services plan that will continue to leave some campuses without a school nurse, while others will only be staffed with a nurse on a part-time basis.

Seton Healthcare Family, which has provided the district’s student medical services for nearly 25 years, will provide 75 nurses and 48 clinical assistants to the district’s 130 campuses.

There has been a strong backlash from parents and medical professional to declining health care services on Austin campuses, and they have called on the district to increase funding for its health care programs. However, the board-approved agreement leaves some small Austin campuses to be staffed only by clinical assistants, who are not licensed medical professionals.  

Parents are disappointed, saying that health care at Austin schools compares unfavorably to what’s provided in surrounding districts.

“I find it reckless that the school district chooses to adopt substandard medical care practices for its students for having untrained staff in charge of our children’s health,” said parent Nancy Flores, a former teacher whose son has multiple life-threatening medical conditions.

Placing a nurse on every Austin campus would have cost the district $9.6 million—or $2.5 million more than what trustees approved in the budget.

Austin trustees were forced to withdraw $29 million from the district’s Fund Balance to cover operating expenses for the 2018-2019 School Year.

Coming up…

The Trump administration has plans to merge the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education as part of a broader reorganization of the federal government.

Virtually every Texas school district faces hard choices in trying to balance next year’s operating budgets. We’ll take a look at some of those challenges—and the consequences.

And a Texas House Committee is preparing to discuss so-called “red flag” issues, and how to identify and report them—all in an effort to reduce school violence.

Those stories—and more—in the Monday, June 25, edition of EduLege.


EduLege is provided by the Texas School Public Relations Association as a service to its members.

Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin School District, compiles and writes EduLege.  Questions or comments may be directed to him at andywelch1@gmail.com.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.