Opinion

Don’t Look Now, But Betsy DeVos May Be Planning to Use Federal Funds to Put Guns in Schools

Today’s nominee for the Are You Kidding Me Hall of Fame is Betsy DeVos’ plan to use federal tax dollars to put guns in schools.  Let’s back up to see where this nonsense got its roots.

After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, the Trump administration convened a federal commission on school safety, led by Department of Education top dog Betsy DeVos. The purpose of the commission was to provide “meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school.” It aimed to culminate in recommendations on a range of issues, including social emotional support, school safety infrastructure, and the impact that video games and the media have on violence. DeVos and her cohorts visited a variety of school districts, and plan to release its recommendations by the end of the year.

As many feared based on President Donald Trump’s call to pay teachers a bonus if they opted to carry firearms, questions arose about whether DeVos’ commission would be focusing on guns themselves in its mandate. In June, DeVos gave assurances that the commission would not be considering the role of guns in school shootings; later, she revised her comments to indicate that the team actually would be considering guns – but only in the narrow sense of discussing minimum ages for firearms purchases.

I guess DeVos has had an interesting summer, because now, she’s changed her tune again. The New York Times has reported that according to insiders, the DOE is now actively considering using federal funding to purchase guns for educators.  Here’s how it’s going to work. The federal government provides grant money to school districts under several programs, one of which is Title IV’s Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants (“SSAE”).

The government’s stated purpose of SSAE grants is to help schools “provide students with a more well-rounded education” and “focuses on safe and healthy students, and how technology can be integrated into schools to improve teaching and learning in addition to emphasizing access to a well-rounded education that includes a wide variety of disciplines – such as music, the arts, social studies, environmental education, computer science and civics.” Apparently, DeVos read that mandate and thought, “Sounds like guns to me!”

Because SSAE is unusual in that it makes no specific prohibition of using funds to purchase weapons, DeVos could use (and according to reports, is seriously considering using) her discretion to approve any state or district plans to use grant funding for firearms and firearm training. Congress could clarify the legislation and ban such funding — or, of course, states could simply opt not to create plans to use money earmarked for band camp to transform the auditorium into an artillery.

A plan to use federal funding for firearms in schools is inane all on its own, but viewed in context of the Trump administration’s relationship to this particular funding, it’s even worse. The grant is part of the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” (ESSA) enacted in 2015 under President Obama, and replacing the widely-criticized “No Child Left Behind” act. ESSA’s focus was to support at-risk students, promote innovation, increase access to preschool, and effect accountability for schools.

As expected, President Trump made undoing ESSA a priority early in his presidency, and has tried to eliminate the grant program twice. Congress, however, responded to recent school shootings by increasing funding for the grants by $700 million this year. So yes, that means that our federal government tried to get rid of a bunch of school funding, and since it can’t, it’s trying to use that funding to buy guns. I can’t wait to see how DeVos is going to spin it when school-supply lists start including ammo along with hand sanitizer and reams of paper.

[Image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. She is a frequent media contributor, and is Of Counsel to Smedley & Lis, in Woodbury, New Jersey. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos

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