In two weeks, students all over the nation will be in school again. Some already are.
That means school boards, districts, and politicians will re-ignite perpetual debates over adequate public school funding.
There will still be too many school districts without adequate funds for books and technology.
There will still be too many classrooms without enough desks to accommodate bursting student populations.
There will still be crumbling old buildings sorely needing plumbing, electrical, construction, and security upgrades.
There will still be too few substitute teachers working for insulting wages.
There will still be too few teachers working with too many students for too little pay.
And there will still be those teachers dipping into their own pockets to pay for classroom materials their districts cannot afford. Compounding this problem is the GOP “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” passed in December, now preventing educators from deducting off their taxes $250 each year for classroom supplies.
The federal government–which never seems to have ample capital for America’s public schools–has, however, located enough money to supply public school teachers with guns.
Contradicting the Education Department’s (USDE) initial stance as being opposed to supplying schools with weapons, this measure first reported in the New York Times undermines the “School Safety and Mental Health Services Improvement Act of 2018” the House of Representatives passed in March, agreeing to set aside $50 million a year for local school districts.
None of that money was to be used for firearms.
The bill failed in the Senate.
The Education Department is reportedly considering applying $1 billion in Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, which do not specifically prohibit weapons.
Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, explained:
“The department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety. The secretary nor the department issues opinions on hypothetical scenarios.”
She told Education Week:
“The NY Times piece is getting blown way out of proportion.”
An Education Department official reports the idea of granting federal funds to arm teachers actually originated not from Betsy DeVos but the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which inquired whether funds from a federal grant program could be implemented toward firearms.
“TEA simply sought clarification on allowable uses of Title IV funding for school safety purposes. To date, USDE has not provided us with a final answer on this specific issue.”
Whatever the truth, the issue raised enough alarm among senators, who moved on blocking DeVos’s proposal.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) serves the state that witnessed the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in December 2012.
About DeVos’s plan, he tweeted:
“Spread the word – The Dept of Ed funding bill is on the floor right now and I’m introducing a last minute [sic] emergency amendment today to stop Devos’s plan to arm teachers. My lord – we can’t let this happen.”
“Parents don’t want this. Teachers don’t want this. The only people who want this are Secretary DeVos and her gun industry allies.”
A component to the Obama-era Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants are intended for academic and enrichment programs in poor school districts, and urge districts to apply the money toward providing students well-rounded educations, improving conditions, and enhancing technology for digital literacy education.
If, in fact, DeVos’ Education Department is interested in utilizing them to arm teachers, and it succeeds, it would be the first time a federal agency authorized weapons purchases absent congressional mandate. It would also undercut Student Support and Academic Enrichment’s “drug and violence prevention” provisions defining safe schools as weapon-free.
The issue of arming teachers picked up immediately following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland Fla. on Valentine’s Day.
While visiting the school after the incident, Betsy DeVos said she considers arming teachers an “option.”
Less than one week after the incident, Florida lawmakers rejected a motion to consider a bill that would ban assault rifles, opting instead to pass a resolution deeming pornography a public health emergency.
Florida’s Southeastern University and Webber International University has instituted pilot programs to arm educators, and the Florida state legislature in March passed a bill to allow armed teachers in school classrooms.
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