Dems press DeVos against arming teachers

Dems press DeVos against arming teachers
© Greg Nash

House Democrats — almost the full caucus — are pressing Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosColleges, universities seeing rise in sexual assault claims, lawsuits Support for educational choice continues to grow Stand with veterans instead of predatory for-profit colleges MORE to scrap any plans to promote the arming of teachers in the name of protecting students.

DeVos is reportedly weighing whether to allow federal funds allocated under a 2015 law to be used for teacher firearm training and the purchase of weapons by interested school districts around the country.

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Behind Rep. Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottHealthy business vs healthy people — how will this administration address the two? Washington turns focus to child nutrition The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — McConnell warns of GOP `knife fight’ to keep Senate control MORE (D-Va.), the ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Democrats maintain that Congress, in passing that law, “never contemplated, and thus never intended” those funds “would allow for the procurement of firearms.”

The lawmakers are urging DeVos to reject entreaties from Texas and other states to tap those funds for the purpose of arming school employees.

“Based on the program’s authorizing statute, recent Congressional action, and precedent, you have the authority to deny such use of funds,” the Democrats wrote in letter Tuesday to DeVos. “Therefore, we urge you to swiftly exercise your authority to clarify to State and Local Education Agencies that [the funding provided under the law] may not be used to arm teachers and other school staff.”

They’ve asked DeVos to confirm, by the end of August, her intent to issue a formal guidance before Oct. 1 barring the purchase of guns or firearm training under the law.

More than 170 Democrats — roughly 90 percent of the caucus — joined Scott in endorsing the letter.

A spokeswoman for agency, however, said no such guidance is forthcoming.

“The Secretary has no planned action on this issue," Liz Hill, press secretary for the Education Department, said Tuesday in an email to The Hill. "If Congress would like to clarify the law, it should take the opportunity to do so."

At issue is a federal grant program, created by the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, providing funding for states and local education departments with the broad goal of improving “school conditions for student learning.” Targeting low-income schools, the grants are heavily focused on efforts to promote “technology readiness” and “digital literacy.”

Following a rash of deadly school shootings, at least two states — Texas and Oklahoma — have asked the Education Department for permission to use the grants to arm and train school employees as a line of defense. The strategy has long been supported by the National Rifle Association, and it’s gained steam under President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE, who’s repeatedly endorsed the idea as a commonsense way to protect students.

"Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them," Trump tweeted earlier in the year. "Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again - a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States."

Last week, The New York Times reported that DeVos is considering the requests from the inquiring states.

The strategy of arming teachers has drawn howls from Democrats and gun reform proponents, who contend that more firearms in schools will simply put more students at risk of being shot. In their letter to DeVos, they note that a law passed in March — designed to bolster school security following the deadly shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., a month before — explicitly prohibits the funds from going to arm teachers.

Furthermore, they’re pointing to language in the 2015 law specifying that the grant program is designed to promote school safety “through the creation of and maintenance of a school environment that is free of weapons.”

“Thus, any use of funds to purchase weapons not only violates intent, but it also clearly contradicts the plain reading of the statute,” the Democrats wrote.

Gun reform has long been considered a third-rail of politics, particularly in conservative-leaning districts where Second Amendment rights are deemed sacrosanct, and efforts to restrict firearms have gone nowhere in recent decades under the majority rule of both parties. The last major attempt, under former President Obama in 2013, was sunk by a GOP filibuster in the Senate. The House never considered the issue.

Yet the string of mass shootings in recent months — including the tragedy at Parkland and other schools around the country — is quickly changing the debate. Student protests have fueled a grass-roots movement hungry for reform; proposals like expanded background checks have the overwhelming support of voters in both parties, according to numerous surveys; and Democrats increasingly view Republicans’ refusal to consider such changes as a winning issue heading into November’s midterm elections, especially in some of the moderate suburban districts they need to win back the chamber.

Highlighting those changing dynamics, Giffords PAC — a gun-reform group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was almost killed in a mass shooting in Tucson in 2011 — released its first ad of the midterm cycle on Tuesday as part of a $1 million campaign to rid Congress of reform opponents. The ad criticizes Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockMillionaires group endorses Dem House candidates opposed to GOP tax law Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls Overnight Energy: Watchdog to investigate EPA over Hurricane Harvey | Panel asks GAO to expand probe into sexual harassment in science | States sue over methane rules rollback MORE, a vulnerable Republican representing a suburban Virginia district west of Washington.

Updated at 6:30 p.m.