By Jim Vertuno
AUSTIN — Texas voters could decide whether to tax themselves to pay for armed guards or other public school safety measures under a plan outlined Tuesday by three Houston-area state lawmakers.
The Texas School District Safety Act is the latest attempt to beef up security at public schools after last month’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Schools typically pay for security measures out of their general budgets.
The plan broadly outlined Tuesday by Sens. Tommy Williams and John Whitmire and Rep. Dan Huberty would allow local schools to set up special taxing districts — if approved by local voters — to raise the money. Williams and Huberty are Republicans; Whitmire is a Democrat.
Williams, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, called the plan “a Texas solution to save lives without sacrificing freedoms” or instituting new gun control measures.
The plan is separate from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s call to have the state pay for special weapons and tactical response training for teachers and other school workers.
The Texas PTA called the School District Safety Act a “promising” plan that will “hopefully serve to shift the focus away from arming teachers and principals in our schools, a strategy the Texas PTA does not support.”
The three lawmakers said school districts would have a dedicated source of money to pay for school safety measures.
But because it may levy new property or sales taxes, the plan may also require an amendment to the state constitution, Williams said. If approved, Williams and Whitmire said they would encourage school districts to contract with local law enforcement for security rather than try to create new, independent police agencies.
“We’re not looking for school districts to have SWAT teams and tanks,” Williams said.
The plan was announced on the same day a shooting on a community college campus in Harris County wounded three people and sent students scrambling for cover.
Whitmire said that while the original plan was to include only public school districts, lawmakers could consider whether to expand it to include higher education campuses.