UPDATED: DeVos Ed Dept weighing decision to let schools buy guns under ESSA program
UPDATE: CNN reports that the Trump administration disputed that the idea of using federal grant funds to arm teachers didn't come from the U.S. Department of Education or Secretary Betsy DeVos, but from a Texas Education Agency letter asking if it would be possible. The department reportedly chose not to respond to the inquiry after circulating it for guidance, but the notion itself has sparked outrage from lawmakers, educators and other stakeholders. Among the responses has been a proposed amendment from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) that would prevent the use of Title IV grant funds for guns.
The U.S. Department of Education is weighing a plan that would let states use federal funds to buy guns for teachers, The New York Times reported.
The weapons would be purchased through the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, which don’t prohibit buying weapons, the Times said. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos could choose to approve a school district or state’s plan to use the money for guns or training teachers to use them, unless Congress passes a law that bans it.
The $1 billion program is part of the Every Student Succeeds Act and is meant to give students a more well-rounded education, better school conditions for learning and more technology to improve academic achievement.
Regardless of whether the plan goes through, it’s still unprecedented. For one, it goes against the government’s consistent “we’re not paying for school weapons” stance, the Times notes. Congress has tried to block federal funds from buying guns for schools, with one recent example in March, when the House passed a bill that would give local school districts $50 million each year. The catch: Not even a cent of the money could be used for guns or firearms training.
When ESSA was passed in 2015, school shootings weren’t part of it either, the Times wrote. The SSAE grant doesn’t say schools can’t use the money to buy weapons, but it does say what schools can do: add more mental health resources for students, give students more learning options, and expand classroom technology. The list goes on and on, and nowhere does it mention weapons. After all, buying them would undermine the program’s commitment to violence prevention.
Before considering buying guns, schools and educators already have a laundry list of expenses to take care of. And in many cases — like in areas still hurting after the recession, or districts that have little to no financial support — they can’t even afford to do that. A Colorado school district cut a day off its school week to save money when it couldn’t get the funds elsewhere. Teachers are also often forced to spend an average of $530 from their own pockets on classroom supplies. The message is clear: There's a huge shortage in funding, even for the bare necessities, not to mention the bells and whistles.
Money handed out to school districts by the federal government is arguably better spent on filling the large gaps that already exist. And if funding is going to go toward school safety measures, or guns are going to start coming to campuses, some say they should be placed in the hands of school resource officers, who, unlike teachers, are highly experienced and already specially trained to use them.
DeVos leads a federal school safety commission that was created in the wake of school shootings including the Parkland massacre. Through listening sessions and roundtable discussions, it's made a few findings that arguably hold some weight: for one, arming and training teachers lacks support from the public and from law enforcement officers, and using school resource officers and upping other school security measures is much more favorable.
- The New York Times Education Secretary Considers Using Federal Funds to Arm Schools