Scott, Bonamici to Congressional Leadership: Stop Secretary DeVos from Wrongly Spending Education Money on Guns
WASHINGTON – Ranking Member Bobby Scott (VA-03) and Vice Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) wrote a letter to House and Senate leadership urging them to prohibit the use of federal funds to purchase firearms or firearms training for teachers in the final Fiscal Year 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) funding bill. This comes on the heels of a letter Secretary DeVos wrote to Congress where she shirks her secretarial responsibility and communicates her intent to allow the use of ESEA Title IV-A program funds to purchase guns for teachers.
“Secretary DeVos’s decision to allow gun purchases with federal education funds is in direct contravention to the program’s authorizing statute, recent Congressional action, and longstanding policy governing the distribution of federal funds. Congress must uphold federal law and decisively prohibit such action through the FY19 Labor-HHS funding bill,” the Members wrote.
Congress intended for Title IV-A, a $1.6 billion program which enjoys strong bipartisan support, to improve school climate in high-needs schools through a wide range of approaches. Grants can be used for efforts such as expanding students’ access to mental health services, supporting drug prevention and anti-bullying campaigns, improving access to arts and STEM curriculum, and increasing the availability of cutting edge technology to support student learning. The text of Title IV-A of ESSA, which was signed into law in 2015, specifically promotes activities that support “a school environment free of weapons.”
Every school environment should be safe, welcoming, and conducive to quality instruction and student learning. Diverting federal funds to arm teachers would not only jeopardize student and staff health and safety, but also run counter to Congressional intent, precedent, and common sense.
The text of the letter is available here and below.
Dear Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan, and Leader Pelosi:
We write to urge adoption of language in the final Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) funding measure to prohibit funds authorized under Title IV-A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), for the purchase of firearms or firearms training for school staff.
Following reports in the New York Times and other outlets indicating that Secretary DeVos is considering allowing State and school district leaders to use funds authorized by the ESEA for these purposes, 173 Members of Congress called on the Department of Education to issue formal program guidance that prohibits the purchase of firearms or firearms training using federal education funding. In response, Secretary DeVos confirmed her intention to issue no such guidance and, instead, to allow the use of ESEA Title IV-A program funds for such purchases. Secretary DeVos’s decision to allow gun purchases with federal education funds is in direct contravention to the program’s authorizing statute, recent Congressional action, and longstanding policy governing the distribution of federal funds. Congress must uphold federal law and decisively prohibit such action through the FY19 Labor-HHS funding bill.
In December of 2015, Congress passed ESSA with strong bipartisan support to help ensure educational opportunity for all students. Central to achieving that goal is implementation of the law’s newly-authorized formula grant program, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant Program (Title IV-A). Title IV-A is intended to provide school districts with supplemental federal resources to ensure low-income students have access to improved educational opportunities through programming and services to improve school climate, increase access a well-rounded education beyond tested subjects, and bolster the availability of cutting edge technology to support student learning. Title IV-A affords local leaders the flexibility to tailor investments to meet local needs; however, in writing and enacting ESSA, Congress never contemplated, and thus never intended, that such flexibility would allow for the procurement of firearms. Congress denounced the presence of firearms in schools in ESEA section 4102(5)(B), which defines the term “drug and violence prevention” as a program that fosters “the creation and maintenance of a school environment free of weapons.” Thus, any use of funds to purchase weapons clearly contradicts the plain reading of the statute.
Further, in authorizing the bipartisan STOP School Violence Act in the aftermath of the Parkland, FL school shooting, Congress acted to prohibit program funds from being used for the purchase of firearms or firearms training. Subsection (a) of section 2706 of Division S of the Fiscal Year 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act states:
“(a) NO FUNDS TO PROVIDE FIREARMS OR TRAINING. – No amounts provided as a grant under this part may be used for the provision to any person of a firearm or training in the use of a firearm.”
Additionally, it is the longstanding position of the federal government that the purchase of firearms and ammunition as related to school safety using federal funds is not allowed. For example, while the Homeland Security Grant Program authorizing statute allows funds to be used broadly for not only “enhancing school preparedness” but also “any other appropriate activity” as determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, program guidance issued by the Trump Administration maintains longstanding policy that prohibits the purchase of firearms and ammunition as allowable program expenses.
ESEA Title programs, including Title IV-A, are intended to improve equity of educational opportunity. Despite modest increases in recent years, appropriations levels for ESEA Title programs remain inadequate to meet all of the educational and enrichment needs of disadvantaged students. It is therefore imperative that funds appropriated for ESEA programs be implemented to align with statutory program goals and purposes. Every school environment should be safe, welcoming, and conducive to quality instruction and student learning. Diverting federal funds to arm teachers would not only jeopardize student and staff health and safety, but also run counter to Congressional intent, precedent, and common sense. In closing, I again urge you to uphold federal law and prohibit the arming of teachers using ESEA funds in the FY19 Labor-HHS appropriations bill.
Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03), Ranking Member, Committee on Education and the Workforce
Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Vice Ranking Member, Committee on Education and the Workforce
Democratic Press Office, 202-226-0853
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