The U.S. Education Department is considering whether it will allow states to use federal funding to buy guns for school personnel.
The New York Times reports that according to multiple people with knowledge of the plan, Betsy DeVos, may use her discretion to approve state or district plans to use grant funding for firearms and firearm training.
Such a move appears to be unprecedented and would reverse a longstanding position of the federal government that it should not pay to outfit schools with weapons.
It would also undermine efforts by Congress to restrict the use of federal funding on guns. As recently as March, Congress passed a school safety bill that allocated $50 million a year to local school districts, but expressly prohibited the use of the money for firearms.
But the department is eyeing a program in federal education law, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, that makes no mention of prohibiting weapons purchases. That omission would give DeVos the leeway to allow funding for gun purchases.
“The department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety,” says Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department. “The secretary nor the department issues opinions on hypothetical scenarios.”
The $1 billion student support program, part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, is intended for academic and enrichment opportunities in the nation's poorest schools.
It calls for districts to use the money toward three goals: providing a well-rounded education, improving school conditions for learning and improving the use of technology for digital literacy.
The proposal by the Education Department is almost certain to spur backlash. The Trump administration’s call to arm educators in an effort to prevent school shootings has generated sizable opposition from educators and law enforcement.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence called the proposal "dangerous and reckless."
"This is what happens when a federal commission to combat school shootings fails to include a single gun safety group," says Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign. "The way to prevent shootings isn’t adding more guns to our schools - it’s taking action to keep them out of the hands of dangerous people.”