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Are Federal Policymakers Opening the Door to More Guns in Schools?

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September 07, 2018 11:06 am

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Federal policymakers may be opening the door to more guns in schools. This episode of Federal Flash explains how.  It also provides an update on education spending and efforts to avoid a government shutdown later this month.

On Wednesday, Senator Diane Feinstein of California brought the debate over guns in schools to Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination hearing to be the next U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Senator Feinstein bemoaned the fact that, “someone would bring a semiautomatic weapon into a school and just mow down children and staff.” In response, Judge Kavanaugh said that he recognized the danger posed by guns. Nonetheless, he defended his opinion in the landmark guns case Heller v. District of Columbia, where he argued that it was unconstitutional for semi-automatic weapons to be banned in the Washington, DC. Watch Kavanaugh’s remarks in the video at the bottom of this post.

Kavanaugh’s remarks come as U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos could permit school districts to use funding from the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant program to buy guns. Created under the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA, the program can fund three broad areas, including supporting safe and healthy students with comprehensive school mental health and other similar services. Funding for this program was increased after the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, to help schools keep students safe, but few, if any, expected this money would be used to purchase guns or train teachers on how to use them.

Here are a few words from our student guest-hosts on the topic:

“We are all concerned about our schools being safe given the string of mass shootings that have happened in schools, but will arming teachers really keep us safe? I don’t think so!

Last week more than 214 Democrats in the United States Congress sent two letters to the Secretary urging her to reject any requests from states or districts to use federal money to buy guns.

We hope she’ll strongly consider their request.”

Read the Senate letter and House letter.

In response, DeVos sent a letter to Congressman Bobby Scott, the leading Democrat on the House education committee, saying that she has “no intention of taking any action concerning the purchase of firearms or firearms training for school staff …I will not take any action that would expand or restrict the responsibilities and flexibilities granted to State and local educational agencies by Congress.”

This is concerning because it appears she is saying that if a state wants to use these funds to purchase or train teachers on how to use guns, she has no intention of stopping them.

All4Ed and many other organizations believe Secretary DeVos has the authority and the responsibility to clarify that federal education funds cannot be used for firearm purchases. Since she won’t step in, Congress needs to.

House and Senate leaders have been racing to pass the annual spending bills. They are combining the major domestic spending bill that funds the U.S. Department of Education and several other agencies with the major defense spending bill to force bipartisan support for the legislation.

It’s possible for Congress to attach a provision to this bill that would explicitly prohibit the use of federal education funds to purchase firearms. The politics of this are tricky – doing so would decrease support for the legislation among conservatives who are already upset about combining these bills together.

If you believe federal education funds should be used for books, not bullets, now is the time to contact your members of Congress. You can reach them through the capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the September 7 episode of Federal Flash, the Alliance for Excellent Education’s five-minute (or less!) video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. The video version is embedded below. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email at alliance@all4ed.org.

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Federal Flash

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