Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed on Monday a bill that would have allowed teachers to carry guns in the classroom, saying that ““arming teachers will not make our schools safer.”
The bill, SB656, called for teachers to be allowed to become “school protection officers” after undergoing firearms training, if their local school board approved. But in his veto message, Nixon said that despite arguments that schools in rural areas, far away from first responders, might need help during a shooting situation, giving guns to teachers isn’t the right way to address the problem.
“I have consistently opposed the arming of teachers as a means to keep schools safe,” the governor said in his message. “It is simply the wrong approach, and one that I do not support…. I have supported, and will continue to support, the use of duly authorized law enforcement officers employed as school resources officers in schools. This bill, which would create a new mechanism for the arming of teachers, would not make schools safer.”
Other provisions in the bill would have barred a political subdivision from banning anyone with a valid concealed carry permit from the open carrying of a firearm. It also would have lowered the age for obtaining a concealed carry permit to 19 from the current 21.
In another school-related action, Nixon signed a bill, HB 1490, that directs Missouri officials to come up with their own version of state school standards, to replace the Common Core standards that have prompted controversy nationwide. Common Core will remain in effect while educator groups develop Missouri's standards.
Monday was the final day Nixon could act on bills passed by Missouri lawmakers this year.
The provision allowing classroom teachers to be armed was put into the gun bill by state Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa. When the bill passed, he emphasized that it gives local school boards discretion about whether they will allow teachers to be armed.
“The reason for it is to give schools another tool in their toolbox to provide security for their schools,” Elmer said.
But Otto Fajen, legislative director for the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association, said that if schools need additional protection, such as those in remote areas, they should rely on trained law enforcement professionals, not teachers.
““It raises profound concerns about safety,” he said about arming teachers, “in terms of people not knowing who’s armed. That can create some uncertainty.”
After the deadly shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Nixon said in a letter to Missouri school superintendents:
“Putting loaded weapons in classrooms is quite simply the wrong approach to a serious issue that demands careful analysis and thoughtful solutions….
“Current law also allows local school boards to prohibit guns in their classrooms. This is a time-tested and solid foundation that we should reinforce, not undermine.”
New statewide school standards coming
On Common Core, similar bills have been signed by governors in Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina. But the time pressure for coming up with new standards in those states may be greater than in Missouri.
The bill signed into law by Nixon allows the Common Core standards to be used in testing this fall. But it also calls for educators throughout Missouri to begin plans for home-grown standards in English, math, science and history and government. Separate groups would be established for lower and upper grades.
The Common Core standards have been criticized by groups on the left and on the right. Most of the complaints center on concerns that they amount to a central, government-mandated curriculum and result in too much student testing.
Supporters of the standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states, say they are not mandates on how schools should teach; those decisions, they say, remain at the local level. The standards simply spell out what students should know in particular subjects at particular grade levels.
Under the new law, work groups would be formed, with members including professional educators and parents. They would be selected by lawmakers, the governor and state education officials and others, to include parents and school professionals. Hearings would be held throughout the process, including three by the state board of education, before the new Missouri standards are in place for the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.
Local districts and charter schools may adopt their own standards if they do not conflict with the new statewide standards. But the law says the state board of education could not mandate curriculum, texts or other instructional materials to be used in public schools; that authority rests with local school boards.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had this reaction to Nixon's signing the bill:
“We welcome the opportunity to discuss the content of state standards with educators and parents. The Department has made ongoing review and adjustment to Missouri's Learning Standards a regular part of Department activities. We have always relied heavily on district professionals to conduct this work.”