School districts across Texas must soon guarantee that an armed security guard is stationed at every one of their campuses in order to comply with a new state law taking effect in September.
“This does create a situation where school district budgeting has to prioritize safety,” said Joy Baskin, associate executive director of policy and legal services for the Texas Association of School Boards, per Fox 4 KDFW. “Given that a school district budget usually commits about 85% of the budget to pay salaries of instructional staff, this does eat up another very important slice of the pie.”
As previously reported by The Dallas Express, some school systems in North Texas are facing budget crunches ahead of the 2023-2024 school year, with declining enrollment and increased spending on capital improvements and administration coupling to strain district operations.
Per HB 3, “The board of trustees of each school district shall determine the appropriate number of armed security officers for each district campus … and must ensure that at least one armed security officer is present during regular school hours at each district campus.”
However, the law provides for a “good cause exemption” if districts cannot afford to hire certified peace officers or cannot find “personnel who qualify to serve as a [certified] security officer.” Under such an exemption, districts can opt to designate a school marshal.
Some districts, including Dallas ISD, have reportedly been having trouble finding enough peace officers to staff up security.
At a May meeting of the district’s school board, trustees considered spending $10 million of taxpayer money on unarmed security to guard non-campus buildings and parking lots, where there had been a rash of car burglaries.
“It’s just very challenging right now … in the profession to hire additional officers, to find qualified people that are willing to do the job,” Dallas ISD Police Chief John Lawton told the trustees, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.
The Dallas Express spoke with Robyn Harris, executive director of strategic engagement and crisis communications for Dallas ISD, about the implications of HB 3 for the district.
“We will be in full compliance with the law,” Harris said, noting that Dallas ISD police officers could be pulled from patrol to be stationed at campuses where there is currently no armed security. She added that the biggest changes will likely be seen at the district’s elementary schools.
As for other districts, some may need to take advantage of Texas’ Marshal Program, which allows a district employee with a valid license-to-carry permit to enroll in school marshal training and become a campus’ designated armed guard.
Hava Armstrong, executive director of Texans for Excellence in Education, told The Dallas Express that Decatur ISD recently decided to embrace the program, noting that the cost of implementation came in under what they originally budgeted.
HB 3 was part of a year-long, statewide push by lawmakers to beef up school security following the tragic mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde in May 2022.
In addition to mandating armed security on campuses, Texas also conducted an intruder audit of most campuses in the state. As previously reported by The Dallas Express, auditors managed to gain unauthorized access to roughly 5% of schools. Additionally, almost a quarter of the campuses audited logged security failures requiring corrective action.