Sen. Rich Crandall, a Mesa Republican, jumped into the school security fray today by announcing a proposal to raid extra Clean Elections funds to pay for more cops in schools and provide training for armed teachers and training school counselors to identify mentally unstable students.
Crandall said his proposal is the best of all the ones floated so far because it doesn’t depend on volunteers or the general fund and the price tag is comparatively modest, $30 million, and has a guaranteed funding stream.
The Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were gunned down, spurred several proposals in Arizona. They include the use of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Posse to patrol in the vicinity of schools, arming teachers and principals, and on Monday Gov. Jan Brewer said she wants to see more funding for school resource officers, specially trained police who work in schools. On Jan. 9, House Minority Leader Chad Campbell proposed a $261 plan that would put more officers in schools, add funding to the public health system and place restrictions on guns.
“There are some challenges with each one of those proposals,” said Crandall, who was flanked by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and Chandler police officer Kevin Quinn, president of the National Association of School Resource Officers. “We’re trying to bring something today that actually has a chance of being funded and moving forward.”
Arizona funds school resource officers with a $7.8 million voter mandate from 2000, and the Legislature used to appropriate an additional $6.7 million from the general fund. The Legislature ended the general fund appropriation in fiscal 2011, an action Crandall voted for.
The elimination of the fund took roughly 100 police officers out of schools, leaving 104 in fiscal 2012. School resource officers are also funded through agreements between school districts and police departments, and about 200 more come from that arrangement.
Crandall said the problem with Brewer’s proposal is it is easy to eliminate funds that come from the general fund when times get tough and he thinks Campbell’s plan has “zero” chance of moving in the Legislature because it costs so much.
Crandall said his plan could be funded by instituting a new tax on private car sales or adding a tax to alcohol, but the most palatable source to voters and fellow lawmakers would be the excess Clean Elections funds.
The Citizens Clean Elections Commission is mostly funded by court fees and traffic citations, and every year there is money left over that goes back to the general fund.
Daniel Ruiz, Clean Elections spokesman, said there has been about $74 million returned to the general fund since the inception of the commission in 1998. Ruiz said he would respond to the proposal after a bill is introduced.
Redirecting the funds would require a referral and wouldn’t reach the ballot until 2014.
“I have a very strong feeling the voters would support this type of legislation,” Crandall said.
In the meantime, school resource officers could be funded by Brewer’s proposed increase until Crandall’s proposal hits the ballot, he said.
Crandall said $4.5 million would go toward training front-line workers such as school counselors to identify mentally unstable people and getting them the help they need.
Crandall’s proposal is the second Babeu has embraced. In December, he and Attorney General Tom Horne suggested a law change that would allow one volunteer armed educator per school who is trained in using firearms.
Crandall’s plan would also establish training and guidelines for arming teachers. Schools that don’t have a police officer can opt to arm one of their teachers.
“None of us here advocate for principals or teachers to be armed, but I ask the question: what is the alternative?” Babeu asked.