By Mary Sell and Caroline Beck, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY – Two North Alabama lawmakers are sponsoring legislation they say would allow for more armed school resource officers (SROs) inside schools at a reduced cost to the systems.
The draft bill would change state law to allow former state, local or federal law enforcement officers with at least 20 years of experience and who retired in good standing to become armed SROs. They would not have to be certified by the Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission, as is currently required.
Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Green Hill, said that requirement for weeks-long training is unnecessary and is keeping retired officers from protecting schools.
“There is no sense in them having to go back through another academy,” said Pettus, a retired state trooper. “I wouldn’t do it.”
The bill hasn’t yet been filed for the 2019 session, but is similar to one Pettus sponsored last year. It was approved in the House and in a Senate committee, but died without a vote in the full Senate on the final day of session.
This year, Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, is sponsoring it in the Senate. He’s the chair of the Senate Education Policy Committee.
Pettus said in north Alabama, there are former Tennessee Valley Authority officers and retired FBI agents who would become SROs, if they didn’t have to take the APOST certification.
Schools can hire their own security staff or contract with local law enforcement for school resource officers. Schools can currently hire non-APOST certified security force members, but they can’t be armed.
“What good are SROs if they can’t stop a threat?” Pettus said.
Last year, Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton told The Times Daily the legislation would allow him to arm three law enforcement retirees currently working at local schools.
Meanwhile, hiring retirees as SROs would save schools money because the officers already have benefits, Pettus said.
Several education groups were in favor of the bill last year because it gave schools more flexibility for making schools more secure.
Last month, State Superintendent Eric Mackey told lawmakers the department of education is requesting $22 million for K-12 school security improvements in the 2020 education budget.
The money could be spent on a variety of safety measures, including school resource officers, mental health counselors, cameras and access point monitoring, locks and new emergency response technology, Mackey said.
Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, is on the House education budget committee and chairs the Education Policy Committee. She said she wants more specifics on how that money would be spent.
“I think he needs to talk a lot more about how that funding would be used,” Collins said recently.
Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, also wants more details about the $22 million.
“I’m not supporting anything without seeing a plan, it doesn’t matter what it is,” Daniels, the House Minority Leader, said.
He wants to see more ways to partner with local law enforcement on school security and better uses of available technology.
“We need to figure out ways to share resources for the greater good,” Daniels said this week.
Collins also said that school systems making those most progress on security initiatives are collaborating with local law enforcement agencies.
“The systems that are working the best are the ones that are partnering with their local police or sheriff departments,” she said.
In this year’s education budget, schools were allowed to use some one-time technology money on security.
“They have some flexibility in terms of those dollars,” House education budget committee chairman Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said Tuesday.
“And we want them to apply that flexibility and apply it to where the needs are in those schools but that is one in several ways that we are trying to improve school security issues in the state of Alabama”.
Pilot math and science program proposed
House education budget committee members were at the State House Tuesday hearing again from education leaders about some of their specific initiatives and budget needs.
Poole did not say how much more money was expected in the 2020 education budget, but estimates it will be the largest budget the state has ever seen. This year’s budget is $6.9 billion.
Mackey on Tuesday presented the need for a pilot program within the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative. The goal is to raise math and science scores for students in elementary schools.
The program would send 12 math coaches into 12 schools across the state to teach current teachers how to be better educators in math and science. The coaches would not be there to replace the teachers, but to give more training on how to better teach math and sciences based on their schools’ particular needs.
The coaches would be there for a year to study what works for the schools and what doesn’t, Mackey said.
Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, asked what was the end goal of this program and what the education department hopes to see by the end of the pilot program.
Raising math achievement overall is Mackey’s biggest objective, he said, including preparing students for Algebra I as early in high school as possible.
The AMSTI program has an about $29 million earmark in the current budget. It wasn’t clear how much the pilot program would cost.
The committee is meeting again this morning, starting with a presentation from the governor’s office. Gov. Kay Ivey’s proposed education budget will be unveiled when the legislative session begins March 5.