Despite opposition from educators, law enforcement, and elected officials from both parties, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – who has never worked in education in any capacity prior to becoming secretary – is apparently mulling over letting school districts use federal funds to buy guns for teachers.
According to the New York Times, the Education Department is considering whether to allow states to use federal funding to purchase guns for teachers, which would go against years of precedent set by the federal government that it will not pay to put weapons in schools. Earlier this year, Congress passed a school safety bill that allocated $50 million a year to local school districts, but expressly prohibited the use of the money for firearms.
“The department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety,” said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department. “The secretary nor the department issues opinions on hypothetical scenarios.”
According to the Times, the program that the department is thinking of using is the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, that makes no mention of prohibiting weapons purchases. That would allow DeVos to use her discretion to approve any state or district plans to use grant funding for firearms and firearm training, unless Congress clarifies the law or bans such funding.
The $1 billion student support program, part of the “Every Student Succeeds Act”, is intended for academic and enrichment opportunities in the country’s poorest schools and calls for school districts to use the money toward three goals: providing a well-rounded education, improving school conditions for learning and improving the use of technology for digital literacy.
Under the current guidelines for improving school conditions, the department encourages schools to increase access to mental health counseling, establish dropout prevention programs, reduce suspensions and expulsions and improve re-entry programs for students transitioning from the juvenile justice system. The Education Department has determined through research that the gun purchases could fall under improving school conditions.
The Trump administration has twice moved to eliminate the grant program – which was first instituted by the Obama Administration three years ago – from its budget. But Congress drafted a spending bill in after the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., shooting and increased funding for the grants by $700 million in the bill passed this year.