Feds May Soon Fund Guns in Schools

By: - August 23, 2018 12:00 am

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at a news conference following a visit to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in March. DeVos is considering a policy shift to use federal funds to arm teachers. Lynne Sladky/The Associated Press

The U.S. Education Department is considering allowing public schools across the country to use federal funds to buy guns for educators, The New York Times reports.

This would be a stark reversal in federal policy on the issue of arming teachers and staff to prevent mass-casualty shootings on K-12 campuses, which have become common in the country.

There have been more than 260 school shootings since the national consciousness was shaken in 2012 when 20 first-graders and six school staff were slaughtered in Newtown, Connecticut, Gun Violence Archive data show.

The effort by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would contradict direction from Congress, which passed a $50 million school safety bill in March, whose funds specifically cannot be used on firearms. The new policy from the Education Department would allow DeVos to individually approve Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants for the use of funding firearms and firearm training.

Those grants, which come from a $1 billion pool, are traditionally used for improving educational access for the nation’s poorest schools. The department now says that providing weapons improves school conditions.

Since the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, state lawmakers have had new momentum in passing legislation to restrict gun access. But policies that would allow guns on school campuses have also gained traction.

While some states, like Vermont, acted this year to ban guns in K-12 schools, other states loosened restrictions on having guns on school campuses.

South Dakota lawmakers this year passed a new law that authorizes nonpublic schools and houses of worship to allow firearms on premises. South Dakota already allows armed sentinels at public K-12 schools through a law that was passed after Newtown.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a law that allows K-12 school personnel to carry a firearm with authorization from a school district.

Texas, which had a school shooting in May — eight students and two teachers were killed, and 13 others injured — is looking at increasing police presence at schools, arming school staff and developing mental health screening programs. As reported by Stateline, about 20 teachers and administrators underwent training this month in Austin as part of a state marshal program. About 165 teachers are expected to be approved to carry firearms this fall as marshals, and scores more gun-toting teachers and school officials in Texas are known as “guardians.”

Passing these kinds of measures is still a difficult task for lawmakers in other states, however. Measures to bring guns to K-12 schools failed in 19 states this year.

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Matt Vasilogambros
Matt Vasilogambros

Matt Vasilogambros covers voting rights, gun laws and Western climate policy for Stateline. He lives in San Diego, California.