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DeVos eyes loophole to use taxpayer money for guns in schools

In a gambit that would be unprecedented, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reportedly has a new plan to use federal funds to buy guns for schools.
Image: File Photo: Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing
File Photo: Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to be next Secretary of Education on Capitol...

During her confirmation hearings to become the secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos signaled her support for bringing more guns into public schools. When pressed on her position, the Michigan Republican specifically raised the prospect of grizzly bears going after children in Wyoming.

Senate Republicans confirmed her to Donald Trump's cabinet anyway, and a year and a half later, DeVos hasn't given up on the issue. The New York Times  reported:

The Education Department is considering whether to allow states to use federal funding to purchase guns for educators, according to multiple people with knowledge of the plan.Such a move appears to be unprecedented, reversing a longstanding 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.

At this point, you're probably thinking that these restrictions will make it legally impossible for DeVos to use federal funds to buy guns for schools. But as it turns out, the Education secretary believes she's found a loophole.

According to the Times' report, there's a fairly obscure grant program for Student Support and Academic Enrichment, and it doesn't explicitly prohibit the use of public funds for firearms. DeVos, evidently, believes she could "use her discretion to approve 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 point of Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants is to promote health and wellness initiatives for students. DeVos may not be overly concerned, however, about the original intention of the program.

If the Times' report is correct, and the Education secretary moves forward with such a plan, it would likely make the president happy. After some recent school shootings, Trump spent quite a bit of time and energy pushing the idea that the key to keeping kids safe is putting more guns in schools.

But to put it mildly, the idea is already facing some pretty serious pushback.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the idea "one of the most egregious, short-sighted and dangerous executive branch abuses of our education system in modern history.""Secretary DeVos continues to lead an anti-student and anti-teacher campaign on behalf of special interests and the NRA that rejects proven and effective initiatives to ensure a safe, welcoming school climate for children," she added.Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, which was the site of the Sandy Hook school shooting, swiftly introduced an amendment that would block the Education Department from using the funds to arm schools.

It's hard to say with certainty how committed DeVos is, or was, to this idea, but the cabinet secretary probably knows that it would be harder to get away with the move now.