- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2018

Democrats and gun control activists on Thursday blasted reports that the Education Department is mulling plans to allow states to spend federal grant money to arm teachers.

The Education Department would not confirm the plans, first reported by The New York Times, saying only that it is “constantly considering and evaluating policy issues.”

But the news, coming just as children are heading back to school, sparked feverish pushback from those who say more guns in the hands of school officials and workers won’t stop shootings.

“This is outrageous. America’s teachers are already forced to spend their own meager salaries on basic school supplies, but the Trump administration would rather use taxpayer money to buy them guns,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reportedly is eyeing a program known as Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants to get around a prohibition on schools spending safety grants to buy firearms.

Mac Hardy, director of operations for the National Association of School Resource Officers (NARSO), told The Washington Times that Mrs. DeVos was asked by a state about using federal funds for guns. Education Week reported Thursday that Texas made the request.

The question of arming teachers exploded onto front pages this year after the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A teenager is accused of killing 17 people in the school and wounding 17 others.

President Trump pushed the idea of arming teachers — and gun control advocates and many educators have resisted.

“My job is to teach middle school English. It’s up to lawmakers to keep us safe from gun violence,” Laura Booher, a volunteer for Moms Demand Action, said in a statement. “Arming teachers will not stop this crisis, but our lawmakers can. Congress must act immediately to block this.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, introduced an amendment to a multibillion-dollar education spending bill that would block Mrs. DeVos from providing funds for firearms.

“Remember, we’ve authorized Title IV dollars with the assumption that a crazy idea like this would never be authorized by the secretary,” Mr. Murphy said. “We’re in a different world now where DeVos is trying to play to Trump’s base as a means of saving him politically.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said arming teachers would “pad the pockets of gun manufacturers and the gun lobby, not protect our children.”

Key Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, say questions about how to spend federal money should be left to states and localities to decide what works for them.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, North Carolina Republican and chair of the House Education Committee, “believes Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants were intentionally designed to give states and local school districts the ability to determine and implement policies to serve their communities,” the committee said in a statement. “Parents, students, and community members can and should make their views about school safety plans known to local leaders.”

School safety groups recommend against using teachers as a line of armed defense. The ALICE Training Institute and NARSO warn that, unlike trained professionals, civilian teachers won’t be properly prepared mentally or physically to take on an armed assailant.

And a Gallup poll released a month after the Parkland shooting showed that only 15 percent of teachers support more defensive measures at school and only 7 percent back arming teachers. The majority supported banning certain guns and other forms of gun control.

On Thursday, the National Association of Families for Safe Schools released a statement from families who had someone killed in the Parkland shooting. They called for the Trump administration to focus on other forms of safety resources, background checks and mental health programs.

“Using federal funds to arm teachers is a misguided idea that undermines real efforts to safeguard our schools against mass shootings like the one that took our loved ones at Marjory Stoneman Douglas,” said Tony Montalto, president of Stand with Parkland. “We should let our teachers teach, and our nation should look to hire trained law enforcement or school security officers to protect our students and staff at school.”

David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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