Indiana state schools chief talks arming teachers, teacher shortage

SOUTH BEND (WNDU) --- Since the February 14 shooting at a Florida high school, arming teachers has been thrust into the national conversation about school safety. Dr. Jennifer McCormick, State Superintendent of Public Instruction in Indiana, disagrees with the proposal.

"I'm not opposed to guns in a school building, as long as those guns are on, and belong, and are being used by people who are trained -- school resource officers, law enforcement," said McCormick. "I think the idea of arming teachers -- I just don't think that's a great idea."

A former teacher, principal, and district superintendent, McCormick is concerned about the risks associated with teachers carrying guns, from personal responsibility to the ability to pull the trigger.

"We lose our keys. I can't imagine trying to keep track of the gun," McCormick raised. "If it comes down to it, you've had a student for, you know, two years, or even one year. That's the student you're getting ready to shoot. Can you have the social-emotional piece where can you do it?"

According to McCormick, an Indiana law allows teachers to be weaponized, if school boards enact the policy. To her knowledge, no district in Indiana allows teachers to be armed.

"That should tell a lot of people the story," she said.

McCormick believes Indiana is a pioneer, hosting the School Safety Academy in May, the only one of its kind in the U.S. Representatives from every state are welcome to attend, said McCormick, who adds solutions to safer schools also rest at the district level.

"It takes that local flare to say, 'What are, what do you need?' You know, what one school needs, even down the road from another school, can look very different," McCormick stated.

Voucher funding and the teacher shortage.
There are 3,000 full-time teaching jobs currently filled by full-time substitutes, said McCormick.

To combat the teacher shortage, she recommends districts be allowed to have unlicensed teachers comprise up to 10 percent of staff. State lawmakers scrapped this language from a recent bill.

"You're not putting unskilled people in the classroom. Their skills are just coming in a different avenue," explained McCormick, who adds fellow educators can teach unlicensed teachers the art of teaching.

Still, the dialogue about the teaching profession, said McCormick, needs to include pay, benefits, and why educators are important.

"We're also trying to change the narrative because for too many years in Indiana, we did a pretty good job of beating teachers up," she said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has lobbied for funding to boost school vouchers. McCormick disagrees with the measure.

"For the federal government, I will say, we are struggling as public education. We're struggling with the funds. It's very difficult to listen to that conversation where more monies are flowing away from public education, when we are in dire need of support," McCormick voiced.

She also believes all schools -- public, private, and charter -- should be held to the same accountability standards.