Sarbanes, House Democrats Urge Secretary DeVos to Back Away from Plan to Put More Guns in Schools

Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) today joined more than 170 House Democrats in demanding that Secretary Betsy DeVos prohibit the use of federal education funding to buy guns for teachers and school staff. The letter comes in the wake of a New York Times report that revealed the administration’s plan to allow schools to redirect federal education funding intended for services like mental health counseling in order to purchase firearms or firearms training.

“Students and school staff deserve a learning environment that is safe, welcoming, and conducive to quality instruction and student learning,” the Members wrote. “Arming teachers would not only jeopardize student and staff health and safety, but also run counter to Congressional intent, precedent, and common sense.”

According to press reports, the proposal under review would allow Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants authorized under Title IV-A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to be used to arm teachers and other school staff. Title IV-A is a program with bipartisan support that is intended to improve school climate in high-needs schools through a wide range of approaches. Grants can be used for efforts such as expanding students’ access to mental health services, supporting drug prevention and anti-bullying campaigns, improving access to arts and STEM curriculum, and increasing the availability of cutting edge technology to support student learning.

“Title IV-A affords local leaders the flexibility to tailor investments to meet local needs; however, in writing and enacting ESSA, Congress never contemplated, and thus never intended, that such flexibility would allow for the procurement of firearms,” the Members wrote. “Any use of funds to purchase weapons not only violates intent, but it also clearly contradicts the plain reading of the statute.”

The text of Title IV-A of ESSA, which was signed into law in 2015, specifically promotes activities that support “a school environment free of weapons.”

As recently as this year, Congress reiterated its opposition to spending federal funds to put guns in schools. In authorizing the STOP School Violence Act in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, Congress acted to prohibit program funds from being used for the purchase of firearms or firearms training.

The letter makes clear that, even without further action by Congress, Secretary DeVos must adhere to federal law and honor the intent of Congress. The Members are asking Secretary DeVos for written confirmation, by the end of this week, of the Department’s intent to issue formal guidance prohibiting the use of federal education funding for the purchase of guns.

Such guidance would uphold current policy which was recently reaffirmed by the Trump administration, as evidenced through Department of Homeland Security Grant program guidance, to prohibit the purchase of firearms using federal funds.