Congressional democrats asked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to clarify her position on using federal grant money set aside for low-income students to arm teachers.
Tuesday’s letter, signed by more than 160 lawmakers, makes clear that federal law prohibits the Education Department from using funds DeVos’s team reportedly considered using to provide teachers with firearms and training. DeVos has until the end of August to respond.
Details about DeVos’s plan surfaced in an article by The New York Times, which explained her department was reviewing a specific grant program for loopholes. Language in the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program makes no mention of prohibiting weapons purchases.
The $1 billion program is listed under the Every Student Succeeds Act that’s intended to support academic and enrichment opportunities in the country’s poorest schools, so using the funds otherwise would undermine the program’s spirit and intention, the Times reported. The department started floating the option after school shootings earlier this year in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas.
In the wake of those attacks, President Trump appointed DeVos to head a School Safety Commission to study ways to prevent future shootings. Trump and his political allies have long promoted armed teachers and guards over regulations. Although most gun owners agree with arming teachers as a means to prevent school shootings, a majority of teachers think stricter gun laws are the way to go.
In response to the article, Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said: “The department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety. The secretary nor the department issues opinions on hypothetical scenarios.”
Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress expressed disapproval of the effort. While House democrats sent the pointed letter, Sen. Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, proposed an amendment to block DeVos from using federal funds to arm teachers. He reiterated that “allowing federal funds to be used to arm teachers in direct contravention of federal law.”
“That is not what parents want. That is not what students want. That is not what teachers want. And that is not what the evidence tells us will make our schools safer. I hope she (Secretary DeVos) listens, and I hope ultimately that this Congress acts,” Murphy said on the Senate floor last week.
Teachers also spoke out against plans to direct federal grants toward arming teachers. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the plan “beyond the recklessness we believed (DeVos) was willing to pursue.”
“Instead of after-school programs or counselors, programs that are critical for creating safe and welcoming schools and addressing the mental health needs of kids, DeVos wants to turn schools into armed fortresses and make kids and educators less safe,” Weingarten said. “She wants to turn the U.S. government into an arms dealer for schools. That’s insane.”