Republicans in the House of Delegates, responding to the mass shooting last week at a Connecticut elementary school, are working on legislation to provide funding for armed officers at Virginia elementary schools.
The measure would expand an existing school resource officer grant program, now mostly used for high schools and middle schools, GOP leaders in the House said Thursday.
“Today, we are announcing our intent to expand funding for a school resource officer grant program to encourage the creation of school resource officer positions in Virginia elementary schools,” Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said in a written statement. “This is a critical step toward making sure all of our schools are as safe as possible.
“We must look closely at everything we can to make sure our children, schools and communities are safe,” he said. “This includes evaluating school safety, our mental health laws and services, and our gun laws.”
The current program was created with middle and high schools in mind, although some elementaries have sought and obtained grants for officers at their campuses. The legislation would provide additional funding and would focus more on elementaries.
“Today, 80 percent of Virginia’s high schools and middle schools have full-time school resource officers,” said Beverly J. Sherwood (R-Frederick), who chairs a House Appropriations subcommittee on public safety. “Unfortunately, only about 25 percent of elementary schools have assigned school resource officers, many of which serve multiple schools. The expansion of this program will encourage the hiring of full-time school resource officers in Virginia elementary schools.”
The cost of expanding the program had not been determined.
“Classrooms are a place for developing a love for learning, not violence,” said House Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights). “We must do everything we can to keep it that way.”
On Wednesday, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Terry McAuliffe called for providing an armed officer at every elementary campus that wants one. His likely Republican opponent, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, said through a spokesman that he was open to the idea of letting trained teachers or other school staff members carry guns in schools. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said in a radio interview earlier in the week that arming teachers was an idea worthy of discussion.
Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) went a step further, proposing a bill that would require schools to arm some teachers or other staff who have had firearms training and are willing to carry a weapon.
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who dropped out of the race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in November but says he is mulling an independent bid, dismissed the possibility of arming teachers, saying that if school security needs to be enhanced, it should be done by law enforcement officers.
This report has been updated.