Asa Hutchinson Talks About School Safety at Meeting of Lieutenant Governors

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas Republican gubernatorial hopeful and former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson told a group of lieutenant governors on Thursday that school safety should be a fundamental part of an adequate education for students.

"If you have school standards ... as to what defines an adequate education, I believe that school security and school safety should be a fundamental part of an adequate education," Hutchinson told members of the National Lieutenant Governors Association during a gathering in Little Rock.

Hutchinson, Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman and state Rep. Debra Hobbs are seeking the GOP nomination for governor in Arkansas. Former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross is seeking the Democratic nomination.

Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe is term-limited and can't seek re-election next year. Hutchinson ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006 and lost to Beebe.

Hutchinson was named the head of a National Rifle Association committee studying ways to improve classroom safety after 20 children and six educators were fatally shot in December at a school in Newtown, Conn.

In April, an NRA-sponsored report proposed a program for schools to train selected staffers as armed security officers. Hutchinson said in April that school security could be provided by trained staff members or school resource officers — police officers assigned to schools that some districts already have.

On Wednesday, Hutchinson told the lieutenant governors gathered in Little Rock that some rural schools cannot afford school resource officers.

"But they know that they're at risk, particularly post-Newtown," Hutchinson said. "And so they've been looking at what more can we do to protect our children."

In Arkansas, some schools seized on what was a little-known law to arm teachers, administrators and other school employees.

Then, a state board voted in September to allow 13 school districts to continue using teachers, administrators and other staff as armed guards, despite a warning from Arkansas' top attorney that the licensing law they relied upon was intended for private businesses.

After initially voting to revoke two districts' licenses classifying them as private security companies, the board decided to allow the schools to keep them for two more years. It said it wouldn't accept any new applications from school districts.

Board members said the two-year reprieve would give the Legislature a chance to look at ways schools could employ their own staffs as armed guards.

Though some lawmakers have said they're interested in changing state law to allow schools to arm employees, they would have to win a lot of support in order to tackle the issue before the 2015 legislative session. The Legislature convenes in February for a session devoted to the state's budget, and it takes a two-thirds vote in both chambers to consider any non-fiscal matters.

Both Coleman and Hobbs said they support allowing schools to arm teachers or other staffers if the schools choose to do that at a local level.

"I think it's really important for teachers and administrators, staff and children to all feel safe and protected," Coleman said. "And I think that happens best and most when faculty and staff adequately trained are adequately armed and able to react instantly."

Ross, meanwhile, is opposed to arming teachers.

"I also support local control where school districts should have the option to place armed, well-trained personnel in schools, so long as they aren't teachers," Ross said in a statement. "We should instead be arming our teachers with better technology and more resources in the classroom and not burdening them with this responsibility."

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