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DeVos may let schools buy guns with federal money

The administration began considering the move after Texas and Oklahoma asked the Education Department if schools could buy weapons with the money.
Image: Betsy DeVos arrives at the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing t
Betsy DeVos at her Senate confirmation hearing to be secretary of education on Jan. 17, 2017.Yuri Gripas / Reuters, file

Betsy DeVos' Education Department is considering allowing states to spend federal funds on guns and gun training for school personnel, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The administration began deliberating the move earlier this year after Texas and Oklahoma asked Education Department if schools could buy weapons using federal funds known as Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, which are part of Title IV funding, a senior administration official and another source familiar with the matter told NBC News.

Texas school districts want to know whether they can use the grant money on "guns, gun training/marshal training for school personnel, metal protectors, bullet proof entries, or other services associated with crisis management," according to an internal Education Department email provided to NBC News by a source.

Texas state officials said they never made a formal request to use federal money for guns in schools but raised the issue in an April email with the Education Department simply to get "clarification on allowable uses of Title IV funding for school safety purposes," Ronnie Burchett, a spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency, told NBC.

The political leadership at the Education Department has been receptive to the idea from the start, while career staff have pushed back, according to one source familiar with the matter.

"Their inclination on all this is states can do whatever they want with Title IV money," the source said. "If you think arming teachers is a good, why wouldn't you want to? They were looking for reasons to allow it."

At the same time, staff members have warned the department of potential legal road blocks and other complications. In another internal email shared by a source with NBC, an official flagged the definition of school "drug and violence prevention" under federal law, noting that it includes "the creation and maintenance of a school environment that is free of weapons."

The Education Department is still weighing the issue and "no decision is imminent," the senior administration official told NBC.

"The Department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety," Education Department press secretary Liz Hill said in a statement. "The Secretary nor the Department issues opinions on hypothetical scenarios."

The Education Department’s potential move was first reported by The New York Times.

The first inquiries from Texas about using the funds to buy guns came after President Donald Trump floated the idea of arming teachers in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. But the debate inside the Education Department picked up steam in mid-May after eight students and two teachers were killed in Santa Fe, Texas, sources told NBC.

Unlike other federal funding for schools, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants do not explicitly disallow the purchase of firearms. In March, Congress passed a budget increasing funds for the program by $700 million.

"The law is broadly written, and if Congress would like to clarify it, they are welcome to," a senior administration official told NBC News.

The idea immediately drew criticism from Democrats, gun-safety groups and education advocates.

"What recklessness. What absurdity. Everyone know that arming teachers will not make our schools or our children safer, period," Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday on the Senate floor.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, slammed DeVos for considering the idea. "She wants to turn the U.S. government into an arms dealer for schools," she said in a statement.