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Top Trump Education Official: Schools Can Use Federal Money to Arm Educators

By Alyson Klein — August 31, 2018 4 min read
Jill Collins, a 3rd grade teacher at DeLand-Weldon Elementary School, fires off a round during a concealed carry class for teachers in June at Adventure Tactical Training in Farmer City, Ill. The class was designed to help teachers feel less vulnerable in the wake of a number of recent school shootings across the country.
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Schools that want to arm teachers are allowed to use federal funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act to do so, one of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ top deputies told the Associated Press.

“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,” Frank Brogan, the assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, told the AP in interview published Friday.

In fact, Brogan later clarified for the Associated Press, states have “always had the flexibility” to use the funds as they deem necessary.

Brogan specifically cited the “school marshal” program in Texas where school employees can volunteer to carry weapons on campuses after undergoing training, as an example of local leaders making the decision to arm educators.

The New York Times first reported last week that DeVos was considering allowing districts to use flexible block grant funding provided under ESSA’s Student Success and Academic Enrichment Grants to arm educators. Districts in Texas had asked the department if such a move would be allowed, Elizabeth Hill, DeVos’ spokeswoman, told Education Week.

Those grants part of Title IV, got a $700 million boost from Congress for the current budget year, bringing their total funding up to $1.1 billion for fiscal 2018. Schools can also use the money for school safety, but also for a range of other things, such as computer science, arts education, counseling, dual-enrollment programs, foreign language instruction, and more.

Following the publication of Brogan’s interview, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told congressional Democrats Friday that she has “no intention” of taking any action or position when it comes to whether schools can use federal funds under the Every Student Succeeds Act to purchase firearms for teachers or teachers.

“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...Congress did not authorize me or the Department to make those decisions,” DeVos wrote in response to a letter from Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and dozens of other Democratic lawmakers.

The letter appears to make it clear that the secretary will not proactively issue guidance saying that it is okay for districts to spend their Title IV funds on guns or firearms training for teachers. But, importantly, DeVos also did not say that she would stop a district from using federal funding to arm teachers, if the district decided that was the best use of its Title IV funding. Brogan’s comments to the AP suggest that the department believes this should be a local decision.

Educators’ Take

Advocates for educators quickly decried the idea that federal funding could be spent on arming educators. The Times story prompted angry statements from the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the American Federation of Teachers, among others.

Congressional Democrats were also against the move. “Arming teachers would not only jeopardize student and staff health and safety, but also run counter to Congressional intent, precedent, and common sense,” more than 150 House Democrats wrote to DeVos on Tuesday in a letter headlined by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the top Democrat on the House education committee.

Some teachers and students who have testified before the Federal School Safety Commission, which was set up in response to the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., have said arming educators will not make schools safer.

“You must understand how fast shootings happen and how chaotic and confusing it is. There’s no way to determine who and where the gunfire is coming from. Say I had a gun. Would I have left my terrified children? Never,” said Abbey Clements, a 4th grade teacher for the Newtown public schools in Connecticut, who was teaching at Sandy Hook Elementary School the day in 2012 that 26 students and teachers were killed there.

But President Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association have pushed the idea of arming educators, particularly those with previous military or other weapons training, as a way to prevent and handle school shootings.

Some educators from rural areas have told the school safety commission that they support the policy, in part because police would have to travel long distances to stop a shooting and may not arrive on time.

“We’re not willing to take that chance,” Lake Hamilton, Ark., schools Superintendent Steve Anderson, who carries a gun at school, told the commission earlier this summer. “We need someone to protect our kids.”

In the AP interview, Brogan reiterated earlier comments by Deputy Secretary of Education Mick Zais, telling the AP that the the commission’s report would suggest best school safety practices to schools.

Brogan said the panel will produce a tool kit “that provides recognized best practices, not just the shiny new object on school safety, but what people are already doing that seems to be showing a track record of success that can be put out there in inventory fashion.”

An early draft of the commission’s report reviewed by the AP recommends that states and communities determine “based on the unique circumstances of each school” whether to arm its security personnel and teachers to be able to respond to violence.

“You cannot do that with a uniform approach to this thing because the country is so very different, place to place, school to school, state to state,” Brogan said. “There is no one way to make schools safe.”

The Associated Press, Wire Service contributed to this article.