During a radio program on November 17, Arizona State Representative Jay Lawrence criticized the state superintendent for supporting the use of newly approved school safety funds on mostly counselors and social workers rather than armed guards.
Lawrence also said that he supports putting armed veterans in schools and allowing teachers to carry guns. In a follow-up interview with Phoenix New Times, Lawrence said that "a couple Green Berets" at a school could deter a "bad actor" or possibly serve more mundane school functions, like breaking up fights.
The comments touch on two of the most politically charged issues in Arizona — schools and guns — and highlight a growing rift between Republican lawmakers and newly elected Democratic State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman.
During the most recent episode of his KQNA radio show, AZ Forum with Jay Lawrence, the Republican legislator from Scottsdale spoke with Arizona House Republican leader Warren Petersen about the $20 million in state funds approved by Governor Doug Ducey this year to add school resource officers, guidance counselors, and social workers to public schools.
Lawrence criticized the state's top public school administrator for allegedly supporting the use of "most" of the money to fund more mental health and social services in schools.
"Kathy Hoffman, Superintendent of Public Instruction, thinks most of that money should go for psychologists rather than armed officers in the classrooms, and I want to see armed officers in school," Lawrence said.
Speaking about armed guards on schools, Lawrence added: "And they would go through a training program before they ever were allowed to carry. It would be so good for the schools. We have veterans that are trained in firearms; we could have them on campus, police officers, retired officers, and teachers even."
Lawrence also said schools should have a "single entry" point for schools "where everyone can be checked as they enter."
During the clip, Petersen also expresses support for "allowing all teachers to be armed," particularly ex-police officers and veterans. He said, "Those people without question should be carrying at our schools and would be wonderful people to be available. Because when you have an active shooter, it's too late when the police arrive."
Petersen did not respond to request for comment.
Listen to the segment below:
The $20 million in state funds added to $12 million that could only be spent on school resource officers. All $32 million will now likely go toward a mix of cops, counselors, and social workers when the Arizona State Board of Education votes to allocate the funds in December.
Districts participating in the school safety program — now with new options to request mental health and social services — asked for more counselors and social workers than school resource officers, several media outlets reported in October. Districts asked for a total of 302 cops, 473 counselors, and 396 social workers, totaling $97,436,892. The disparity between funds available and the need means most districts won't get everything they asked for.
In a statement to New Times, Hoffman said Arizona public schools need a mix of security and mental health personnel.
“The best approach to school safety is a multidisciplinary approach that addresses security concerns, while also supporting the behavioral health needs of students," Hoffman said. "While some schools may feel the need to hire a school resource officer, others may find a counselor, a social worker, or some combination of these positions to be a better fit. I believe in letting school communities make those decisions.”
Hoffman previously said that she does not support putting a school resource officer in every school, as some Arizona officials have proposed. Arizona Department of Education spokesperson Richie Taylor said Hoffman maintains that position.
Lawrence clarified to New Times that he is awaiting the Department of Education's decision on how much of the school safety funds Hoffman's agency will allocate toward cops before deciding whether he wants to criticize the superintendent.
"It depends on the school. It depends on the district. It depends on what problems they have. It depends on population of the school," he said. "If Hoffman recommends all counselors and no school resource officers, then I’ll make a determination."
Lawrence further explained his proposals for putting veterans in schools and arming teachers. Lawrence emphasized that he prefers having cops in schools, but that the funding is not there to have them at the scale he envisions. So some "volunteer service personnel" might be necessary.
"It could be with pay, but we don’t have that much money," Lawrence said. "A couple Green Berets."
The representative said the veterans might not even need to be armed. "A veteran on campus, even unarmed, would discourage a bad actor, knowing there is a tough guy available. Even if it is only to break up fights among students," he said.
Lawrence used similar logic for his idea to arm teachers. He clarified that he would only want no more than two armed teachers in a school as "a deterrent to a bad actor doing something on campus." The teachers would need to have special training, he added.
Taylor, the education department spokesperson, disputed Lawrence's reasoning that armed teachers would deter school shooters.
"I think that reality has not shown that to be true," Taylor said. "Having guns on campus has not stopped school shooters."
Taylor added: "Teachers have largely said they don’t want to fulfill that role and that is not the role of a teacher."
There is some evidence against the idea that armed school personnel act as a deterrent to school shooters. Four high-profile shootings in 2018 took place in schools with armed guards on campus who did not stop the shooter, noted The Trace, a nonprofit media organization that reports on guns and gun violence.
Lawrence is not the only politician who has raised the idea of placing armed veterans in schools or placing guns in the hands of teachers.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed bills this summer that would allow more teachers to carry guns in response to the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting. A Florida charter school made national headlines after it placed two rifle-toting, combat veterans on campus. And President Donald Trump called for veteran guards and armed teachers during a meeting with survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida.
Lawrence drew controversy in September for saying during a gun control forum that black and brown communities have "firearms galore" and that those communities are "better armed than the police officers who are supposed to be controlling them."
The lawmaker later amended his comment in an interview with New Times, saying he meant for them to address the prevalence of guns in gangs in general, not race-specific gangs.
"I am sorry I specified black gangs, because they are not different from white gangs and Latino gangs," he said. "They should not be delineated. Gangs are gangs, whatever the color of the gang."
The Democrat Hoffman, who defeated Republican Frank Riggs to win the state superintendent's seat, has faced several political attacks since she took office this year.
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In September, Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers and State Senator Sylvia Allen appeared at an event where social conservatives attempted to tie Hoffman to a conspiracy theory that sexual education is a ploy to sexualize children so Planned Parenthood can capitalize on increased abortions.
Hoffman called comments by Bowers and Allen at the event "outrageous and offensive."
And in October, Republicans voted to audit how Hoffman's office has administered the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, the state's voucher program. Hoffman has defended her office by saying the Legislature has failed to give her staff enough funds to properly oversee the program.
“We’re confident that what the audit will show is that we need extra staff to fully serve the families that are relying on this program,” spokesperson Taylor told Arizona Capitol Times.