The legislation doesn’t outline penalties for school districts that don’t meet the armed officer requirement, Baskin said.
If school districts can’t staff schools with armed peace officers because of financial or staffing constraints, the legislation allows for a school board to claim a “good cause exception.” Each school board will determine what these exceptions will look like locally and must outline an “alternative security standard with which the district is able to comply,” the TEA told The Texas Tribune.
According to the law, alternative plans can include allowing trained staff members to be armed. A new option in the school safety law approved this year is for districts to contract with a licensed private security firm that has personnel licensed to be armed, Avera said.
Districts can arm their staff members through the state-run school marshal program, which requires 80 hours of training and certification by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, or by setting their own policies — known as “Guardian Plans” — to designate specific individuals to carry firearms.
In a 2020 report from the Texas School Safety Center, 41% of the state’s more than one thousand school districts reported contracting school resource officers from other law enforcement agencies and 32% employed their own police officers, but about 70% of districts said they hired only between 1 and 5 police officers. About half of districts reported using non-law enforcement security personnel, including 27.4% under Guardian Plans and 6% under the school marshal program.
In a similar 2022 report about charter school districts, 30.2% of almost 200 charter school operators in the state reported using non-law enforcement security personnel, including 24.2% who hired private security.
Arming school staff could be less expensive than hiring police officers but still requires vetting and training under the school marshals program. The state pays for school marshal training, but that training is not always widely available, so school districts may still incur travel costs for their staff to be trained, said Craig Bessent, a school marshal in Wylie Independent School District, where he also serves as assistant superintendent of school operations.
“I wish we would have had more legislative help on that but we didn’t, so we'll just see how it plays out,” said Bessent, who is also chair of the Texas School Safety Center’s board of directors.
In addition, finding school employees who want to be armed might be hard. In the past, they have been reluctant to do so. About a month after the Uvalde shooting, a survey showed that Texas teachers do not want to take a gun to school.
Given these constraints, Bessent said school districts are “scrambling” to figure out how to follow the legislation before it is expected to go into effect in September.
The TEA said it plans to provide additional guidance, including webinars with an overview of HB 3 and school safety-related funding, within the next few weeks.
Districts will likely work to meet the requirements as soon as possible, Baskin said, but it may take some time.
“I think many districts will want to stay as closely aligned to the statute as possible. In part because they do want to provide the best possible safety for students, but also in part because they would not want to be out of sync with the legal requirements if there were an emergency event,” she said.
State Rep. Dustin Burrows, the Republican from Lubbock who authored the bill, did not respond to a request for comment on the rollout of the requirement.