The Education Department is considering whether to allow states to access federal funding set aside for academic enrichment and student services to purchase guns for educators, according to multiple people with knowledge of the plan.
Such a move would reverse a long-standing position taken by the federal government that it should not pay to outfit schools with weapons. And 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 allow the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, to use her discretion to approve or deny any state or district plans to use grant funding for firearms and firearm training, unless Congress clarifies the law or bans such funding through legislative action.
“The department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety,” said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department. “The secretary nor the department issues opinions on hypothetical scenarios.”
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The $1 billion student support program, part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, is intended for academic and enrichment opportunities in the country’s poorest schools and calls for school 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.
Tapping that fund for the purchase of weaponry spurred swift action in Congress Thursday morning. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., introduced an amendment to a massive funding bill up for a final vote as soon as Thursday afternoon that would block the Department of Education from allowing school districts to using federal funds to purchase firearms. The spending bill in the final stages of consideration funds the Education Department, along with most other social programs.
Department officials acknowledged that carrying out the proposal would mark the first time that a federal agency has authorized the purchase of weapons without a congressional mandate, according to people familiar with the discussions.