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Education Dept: Schools could use federal grants to buy firearms, training

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (Michael Vadon/Flickr)
September 05, 2018

Schools could now decide to use federal grant funds to purchase firearms and training for security if they choose to, the Education Department said last week.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Friday that schools would be permitted to use their federal grants funds to purchase guns for their own security, if local officials decided to do so, Politico reported Friday.

In a letter to Rep. Bobby Scott, a Democrat who serves on the House education committee, DeVos said, “Let me be clear: I have no intention of taking any action concerning the purchase of firearms or firearms training for school staff under the [Elementary and Secondary Education Act].”

Rep. Scott and other Democrats had originally written a letter to DeVos to inquire whether or not such purchases would be allowed using federal funds, after media reports suggested DeVos was considering action against the schools.

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DeVos’ announcement has infuriated Democrats, who called on the Trump Administration to prohibit schools from purchasing firearms or firearms training with the funds. Some have said the funds are not intended for such purchases. Sen. Chris Murphy said, “allowing federal funds to be used to arm teachers is in direct contravention of federal law.”

“The ESEA provides ‘substantial flexibility’ in how school districts use these funds to meet the purposes of the program and allows educators to tailor investments based on their own assessments of the needs of their unique student populations,” DeVos explained in the letter.

“Congress did not authorize me or the Department to make those decisions. … I will not legislate via fiat from the Department,” she said.

The issue came to light after Texas and Oklahoma inquired whether or not funds from the Title IV-funded Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant could be used to purchase firearms and related training.

Texas specifically asked if the money could be used toward “guns, gun training/marshal training for school personnel, metal protectors, bullet proof entries, or other services associated with crisis management.”

The language in the $1.1 billion grant program does not specifically exclude such purchases. Approximately 20 percent of annual funding is already designated for school safety, even though some critics are claiming that funds will be diverted from the purchase of books.

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Education Department press secretary Liz Hill said, “The Department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety.”

“The safe-schools block grant for many years has allowed states to make the decision about how to use those federal dollars to make schools safer for children,” Hill also clarified.

Frank Brogan, the assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, also said that states have “always had the flexibility” to use federal grants for such purchases.

“The people at the local level who’ve been there for years could make the decisions about what services to purchase, what equipment to buy to fulfill the general broad obligations laid out in that law,” Brogan said.

He added that firearms training for teachers “is a good example of a profoundly personal decision on the part of a school or a school district or even a state.”

Later this year, DeVos and a federal school safety commission are expected to release recommendations on improving school safety.