Betsy DeVos Will Let States Choose Whether Schools Can Use Federal Money To Buy Guns

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In the months after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people, conservatives and gun rights advocates suggested that teachers should be allowed to keep firearms in their classrooms. School district leaders in Parkland ultimately voted against arming teachers, but in a letter issued on Friday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she will allow schools to buy guns using federal grants.

Bustle has reached out to the Department of Education for comment. In the letter, which was addressed to the House education committee's top Democrat — Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott — DeVos announced that she and the Education Department would not take a position on whether states could use federal funds to purchase firearms for school officials.

"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 ESEA," DeVos wrote. "Congress did not authorize me or the Department to make those decisions."

DeVos also argued that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) "provides 'substantial flexibility' in how school districts use these funds to meet the purposes of the program," implying that states may already have the authority to purchase firearms with federal grants. According to The Hill, some experts believe that DeVos' announcement effectively clears the way for schools to buy guns with federal money.

Frank Brogan, assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, told the Associated Press that allowing teachers to carry firearms “is a good example of a profoundly personal decision on the part of a school or a school district or even a state.” This is a perspective that both DeVos and President Donald Trump seem to share; in the past, both of them have said that schools should have the choice to arm their teachers if they believe that could be beneficial.

Brogan also told the AP that the Every Student Succeeds Act — which gives states primary jurisdiction over policies pertaining to education — sets aside 20 percent of its $1 billion in school funding to address school safety.

“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 argued.

The question of whether Congress already allows schools to purchase guns using federal grants is an extremely contentious one, according to Politico. Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, argued on the Senate floor last week that DeVos “allowing federal funds to be used to arm teachers is in direct contravention of federal law.” However, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander believes the opposite, and has said that Congress already gives states the final say in such decisions.

The Trump administration started to look into this question of purchasing guns for schools earlier this year, NBC News reported, when Texas and Oklahoma asked the Department of Education whether its schools could purchase firearms using grants under Title IV funding. Texas officials specifically wanted to know whether they could use Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants on "services associated with crisis management," such as guns or bulletproof entries. In response, Brogan told the AP that the Education Department's position on the issue is that states should interpret such grants as being their money, and they can do what they choose with it.