Georgia’s lieutenant governor wants to pay teachers $10,000 a year to carry guns at school

Georgia Lt. Gov. Burt Jones discusses school safety proposals, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, at...
Georgia Lt. Gov. Burt Jones discusses school safety proposals, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, at Austin Road Elementary School in Winder, Ga. Jones says he wants to pay a $10,000 yearly stipend to teachers who pass firearms training, allowing them to carry guns in school.(AP Photo/Jeff Amy)
Published: Oct. 25, 2023 at 2:56 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 25, 2023 at 5:54 PM EDT
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WINDER, Ga. (AP) — Georgia’s lieutenant governor said Wednesday that he wants to pay teachers $10,000 a year to encourage them to carry guns in schools.

Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, speaking at Austin Road Elementary School in Winder on Wednesday, said he wants the state to spend more money on school safety, including paying for teachers and other non-officers to take firearms training, and paying teachers who hold a firearms training certificate an annual stipend.

His plan also calls for stricter standards for already-required school safety plans and boosting money the state gives schools to hire school resource officers with police certification. Salary and benefits for such officers can cost $80,000 or more.

“We feel like this is the best way to prepare faculty, but also prepare law enforcement and the system however we can,” Jones said, saying the state should be “proactive” to prevent shootings.

Former President Donald Trump and others have called for arming teachers, saying gun-free school zones are targets for armed assailants.

But Lisa Morgan, the president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said her teacher group “categorically” opposes anyone besides certified officers carrying guns in schools. She suggested Jones instead write legislation to hire more counselors.

“Teachers should not be armed in the classroom,” Morgan said. “We are not there to serve as law enforcement and introducing more firearms into the school is not a way to solve the problem of violence in our schools.”

Critics also say that lots of practice will be needed to use a gun properly in an emergency, and that there’s a history of even regular police officers accidentally shooting guns at schools.

Barrow County Superintendent Chris McMichael said that although his district allows its security chief to carry a gun, the school board would have to carefully examine arming other employees. He supports increased funding for school resource officers, saying the district has 15 or 16 officers, not enough to have one in each of its 20 schools.

Barrow County Sheriff Jud Smith was more enthusiastic, saying armed teachers could be a “force multiplier” in case of a shooting.

The Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest teacher group, called for school safety funding to be rolled into the state’s school funding formula, making it reliable from year to year, instead of being doled out in one-time grants.

Margaret Ciccarelli, PAGE’s top lobbyist, said that in a recent survey, 4,000 members ranked letting non-officers carry guns as last among preferred school safety measures. Top priorities were mental health interventions, more school resource officers and better safety plans.

Since 2014, Georgia has allowed local school boards to permit trained people who aren’t police officers to carry guns at schools, including teachers. It’s unclear how many districts have done so, although at least five school districts allow some non-officers to carry guns. In Barrow and Cobb counties, that policy only applies to security personnel without police certification, not teachers.

Jones and his allies emphasize the program would be voluntary. Teachers wouldn’t be required to participate, and teachers could carry guns only in districts where a school board voted to allow it.

“These are not mandates,” said state Sen. Max Burns, a Sylvania Republican who said he will sponsor the legislation in 2024. “These are local decisions by a local school board to tailor programs that fit the unique situations in your school system.”

Georgia has 180 school districts and more than 2,300 public schools teaching 1.75 million students. State Department of Education figures show Georgia schools have close to 2,000 school resource officers. Seven school districts and 15 in-person charter schools report no officers.

Jones, who needs conservative credentials if he runs for governor in 2026 against other Republicans, said he wouldn’t support restrictions on guns in any school safety package.

“I’m not talking about that. We’re talking about trying to protect the school systems right now,” Jones said.

It’s unclear if other top Republicans support Jones’ proposed legislation. Kaleb McMichen, a spokesperson for state House Speaker Jon Burns of Newington, said Burns hasn’t seen the plan. A spokesperson for Gov. Brian Kemp declined comment. State Superintendent Richard Woods didn’t immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

Jones’ program is modeled on a proposal in Texas that did not pass. It would have paid teachers an extra $25,000 a year if they took firearms and mental-health training and learned first aid. That proposal came after a 2022 shooting in which a gunman killed 19 fourth-graders and two teachers in 2022 at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Instead, Texas mandated that every campus should have a certified officer. Texas schools have struggled to meet that mandate, saying they lack money and that police officers are in short supply.

Like Georgia, Texas already allows teachers to carry guns, but has had few takers.