Betsy DeVos considers allowing schools to use federal funds to buy guns

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)
Washington Post

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering allowing states to use federal grant money to buy guns for schools, people familiar with the matter said.

Two people said the question has been raised inside the Education Department as to whether states are allowed to use money available through Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants to buy firearms. Unlike other federal grants, this one does not expressly prohibit such purchases.

Allowing schools to use federal money to buy firearms would fuel anger among those who say the response to school shootings should be fewer guns, not more. But it could find support among gun rights advocates who say that having firearms in schools would make them less likely to be targeted.


“The department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety,” said Education Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill. “The secretary nor the department issues opinions on hypothetical scenarios.”

The policy consideration was first reported by the New York Times.

The conversation was sparked because the federal law that created the grants includes few constraints, people familiar with the matter said. “Congress wrote a vague law and everyone is trying to figure out what it means,” one person said, adding that Congress should clarify its intentions and bar such purchases if it does not want to allow them.

The person added that it is possible DeVos would take no action on this matter — not expressly permitting it nor advising against it. In that case, a state could try to force her hand by using its grant money for gun purchases and seeing if the department tries to block it.

The grant program at issue is meant to be a flexible funding source for states to improve student academic achievement. Exact funding levels depend on annual appropriations but can amount to millions of dollars per state each year.

The program was not created with school safety or firearms in mind. But while another federal program explicitly prohibits use of grant money for guns, these grants do not.

The idea was swiftly met with criticism from several education groups and parents of school shooting victims.


JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Assn. of Secondary School Principals, condemned the use of the grant funds — called Title IV in federal education law — for firearms.

“It’s a perverse distortion of Title IV’s goal of enhancing student learning,” Bartoletti said. “Under the guide of flexibility, the secretary continues to abdicate her responsibility to advance sound, research-based efforts to safeguard students.”

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., reacted angrily to the suggestion that federal education funds would be used to buy guns.

“Devos, after my daughter was murdered, you yelled ‘Don’t talk about guns, talk about mental health,’” Guttenberg posted to Twitter. “Your brain dead plan will pull money from mental health.”

The conversation about using federal funds for guns appears to be happening independently from deliberations of a school safety commission created by President Trump that is led by DeVos. The commission is expected to include a section in its report on best practices for arming school personnel, several people familiar with that process aid.

During its public meetings, the commission has heard strong arguments both for and against more guns in schools.

Trump has called for arming teachers as a way to harden schools and suggested paying them extra if they agree to carry weapons. “You give them a little bit of a bonus, so practically for free, you have now made the school into a hardened target,” he said in February.

DeVos has said that the commission would not consider proposals for gun restrictions. One exception is a proposal to raise the minimum age at which people may buy guns.