Democrats Move to Block Reported DeVos Proposal to Spend Federal Dollars on Guns for Schools, Education Department Calls It a ‘Hypothetical Scenario’
Senate Democrats took immediate action on Thursday morning to oppose Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ reported proposal to use federal funds to arm teachers. This proposal has been met with widespread disapproval, as many believe that school funding should not be allocated towards purchasing weapons.
Democrat Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut expressed his opposition to DeVos’ plan, stating that Congress, parents, and teachers all disagree with it. Murphy believes that implementing this policy would lead to more school shootings and loss of life. In an attempt to block the plan, Murphy introduced an amendment to a pending Education Department spending bill. However, this amendment was not included in the final package of amendments that the Senate passed on Thursday evening.
Late on Wednesday night, The New York Times reported that DeVos would allow states and districts to utilize a $1.1 billion catchall education funding program to purchase firearms. While other federal school-safety grants are restricted from being used to buy guns, there is currently no such limitation on these grants. President Donald Trump has advocated for arming teachers and strengthening school security in response to the recent high-profile school shootings, beginning with the Parkland massacre in February.
Senator Murphy has been a vocal opponent of guns in schools since DeVos’ confirmation hearing in 2017, where she controversially suggested that rural schools might need guns to protect against grizzly bears. Murphy’s proposed amendment would prevent the specified funds from being used to provide firearms or firearm training to anyone.
In addition to Murphy, other Democratic members of Congress, gun control advocates, and education groups have criticized this measure. They argue that schools cannot afford essential supplies for classrooms, adequate wages for teachers, or even soap for students. These voices emphasize the need to prioritize funding for education and learning.
Mark Barden, the founder of Sandy Hook Promise, a group created by the families of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, condemned the proposal. He stated that arming minimally trained educators is unnecessary when there are cost-effective prevention solutions available, such as training students to recognize warning signs of potential violence.
The only Republican open to the plan is Senator Lamar Alexander, the chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. While he expressed his dislike for arming teachers, he believes that states should have the authority to decide how to use federal funds to enhance school safety.
Murphy’s proposed amendment would modify a pending amendment introduced by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, which allows the funds to be used for infrastructure and technology upgrades, such as metal detectors and law enforcement notification systems. Cruz’s amendment does not specifically mention using the funds for firearms.
Murphy’s amendment not only blocks the use of grants for purchasing guns but also undermines Cruz’s proposal, suggesting that the funds be directed towards mental health providers and violence prevention programs instead.
According to Education Week, the idea did not originally come from DeVos but from Texas officials who questioned whether the funds could be used to buy firearms. The Education Department explained that the Times article has been blown out of proportion and they do not comment on hypothetical scenarios. KPRC in Houston reported that over 200 of the state’s school districts have introduced programs this year that allow them to establish their own policies regarding teachers and faculty carrying weapons.
In response to the Parkland shooting, the Trump Administration formed a school safety commission chaired by DeVos. So far, the commission has focused on issues such as behavioral interventions and violence in the media. DeVos faced criticism after stating in June that the role of guns in school safety would not be explored.
The funding in question, as reported by The New York Times, is part of the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, commonly referred to as Title IV in the education community due to their inclusion in the Every Student Succeeds Act. The grants, which the Trump Administration has proposed eliminating twice, have three main purposes: providing students with a well-rounded education, supporting their safety and well-being, and promoting the effective use of technology.
The Democratic leaders of education committees, who collaborated with Alexander in crafting the Every Student Succeeds Act, insist that using the grants to arm school personnel goes against the program’s intention of fostering safe environments.
Sen. Patty Murray, the leading Democrat on the HELP Committee and the appropriations subcommittee responsible for overseeing education spending, described the proposal as "absurd and appalling."
Murray stated, "Using these funds to introduce more firearms into schools not only contradicts Congress’ intentions, but also endangers schools and compromises student safety."
Rep. Bobby Scott, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, urged Congress to intervene and put an end to this plan.
In a statement, Scott said, "The administration is blatantly disregarding the essence of the law and overlooking common sense when it comes to gun safety. If they refuse to abandon this proposal, Congress must step in to protect students and educators from the consequences."
Ken Trump, a school safety expert unrelated to the president, shared his opinion with , suggesting that the funds would be better used in different ways.
"They have not come close to restoring a well-balanced and comprehensive school safety policy like we had in the years following the Columbine shooting, so they should focus on getting that right before anything else," he commented.
Trump also noted that the proposal could potentially expose the federal government to liability if a teacher misuses a gun funded by federal grants within a school setting.
If additional guns are deemed necessary on campuses, Trump suggested that they should be carried by trained law enforcement officials.
"If you want to have an armed presence on campus, hire a trained professional who is a public safety official," he urged.
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