The Slatest

The Department of Education Has Looked Into Whether to Let Schools Use Federal Money to Buy Guns

Betsy DeVos seated
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
SAUL LOEB/Getty Images

A quick update on America’s plunge into gun-strapped dystopia.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Education was considering a plan that would allow schools to buy firearms for teachers using money from a federal grant program originally designed to support student enrichment, an unprecedented step that would turn an NRA fever dream into official public policy.

However, an anonymous administration official has now pushed back a bit, telling CNN on Thursday that the idea “did not originate with the Department of Education” or Secretary Betsy DeVos, and that the government was only evaluating a request from the Texas Department of Education. The federal department does not seem to have ruled the concept out entirely, however.

Donald Trump broached the idea of arming teachers in order to prevent shootings after the Feb. 14 massacre in Parkland, Florida. The National Rifle Association has long advocated allowing educators carry weapons on campus, and several states already allow them. But the president’s comments thrust the issue into the middle of the national debate.

According to the New York Times’ initial report, Congress typically bars schools from spending federal funding on guns. But the Department of Education has been examining whether districts could pay for weapons using Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, which were created as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. The $1 billion program is pretty much what it sounds like: The money is intended to help schools provide students with a well-rounded education, bring technology into classrooms, and create a healthy learning environment through “comprehensive school mental health, drug and violence prevention.” But there’s nothing in the law that explicitly says the money can’t be used for setting up English teachers with pistols, and the Department of Education has supposedly been trying to figure out whether that might fall under the rubric of “improving school conditions.”

The administration is now telling CNN that it only began looking into the issue after it received a letter from the Texas Department of Education asking if the grants could be used that way, and that after researching the issue, it decided not to respond.

But the department doesn’t seem to have quashed the idea entirely. Per CNN:

The official added that DeVos thinks that Congress should take action to clarify whether or not using the grant funding to buy guns is permissible. Moreover, the Education Department believes the grant program is intentionally vague to give school districts flexibility, and the idea of purchasing firearms was likely not considered when it was written, according to the official.

In response to the Times report, Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill told CNN that “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.”

It seems unlikely that Congress will pass a bill anytime soon explicitly saying that, yes, schools can use student enrichment grants to build up a weapons cache, so perhaps deflecting to Capitol Hill is just a way of punting on the issue. Or maybe not! Still, anybody who may have thought that arming teachers to prevent school shootings was just a plainly disingenuous talking point Republicans were lobbing out to counter calls for gun control after Parkland should think again. At least a few people are still taking it deadly seriously.