The challenger in the spring election for state superintendent of public instruction said he would support school districts arming teachers, staff or volunteers to protect student safety.
Rep. Don Pridemore, R-Erin, said in an interview Friday that he is not calling for putting armed guards in all schools, as the National Rifle Association suggested after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December.
But Pridemore said unlike State Superintendent Tony Evers he would support a school district if it chooses to use armed personnel other than police officers.
"Under my tenure at DPI we'd do nothing to hinder that," Pridemore said.
Pridemore issued a statement Thursday saying school boards "should be given the freedom to hire a competent, well-trained school official or employee who is experienced with applying force whenever force is required" such as a retired or on-duty police officer. He also suggested schools could rely on volunteers in such circumstances.
Evers said in response to Pridemore's statement that many school districts already have police officers in schools, which he will continue to support.
"I do not support arming teachers, custodians and school personnel," Evers said. "This will not make kids more safe and is not the right atmosphere to help students to learn."
State and federal Gun Free School Zone laws allow school districts to contract with individuals or agencies to carry guns in schools for security purposes.
Madison, like many large districts, assigns a police officer to each of its high schools, but not to its elementary and middle schools.
Most school districts, especially small, rural districts, do not have police officers in schools because of the cost, said Dan Rossmiller, government affairs director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
Rossmiller said school boards support having armed police officers in schools, but not arming teachers. He said liability insurance carriers might have issues with volunteers carrying guns in schools.
"Probably the biggest impediment to schools bringing in trained law enforcement officers is the revenue limits which the Legislature sets," Rossmiller said.
Pridemore said the most cost-effective approach would be for districts to ask qualified, retired volunteers from their community to patrol schools. He said the criteria for choosing who can serve in this role should be up to the local community and not the Department of Public Instruction.
"DPI can certainly make recommendations on how to proceed but the final decision should be made by the local officials and must be a priority in today's world," Pridemore said.
Christina Brey, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest teachers union, said police officers in schools form relationships with students and aren't just armed guards in hallways.
"I haven't heard any talk of people trying to put volunteer police officers in schools," Brey said. "What we hear more from rural districts is we need the resources from the state so that whatever supports are essential for keeping kids safe are in place."