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Education Groups Tell Congress: Prohibit Federal Money From Being Used to Arm Teachers

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Don't allow federal funding to be spent on arming school staff or training them to use weapons, more than a dozen groups representing educators told lawmakers in charge of education spending in a letter Thursday.

The letter—which was signed by both teachers' unions, groups representing elementary and secondary school principals, the National PTA, and more—echoes calls from congressional Democrats to make it crystal clear that states and districts can't spend money from Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act on guns for school staff.

President Donald Trump has called for federal resources to arm teachers, as one way to help prevent or cope with school shootings. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has said there is nothing in ESSA that would prevent a district from using Title IV funds that way. Title IV, a $1.1 billion flexible block grant, can be spent on anything from arts education and foreign language instruction to counseling and school safety.

But the advocates for educators say that allowing the money to be spent on guns would divert it from its intended purposes. They want Congress to add language to the spending bill, which is under consideration by House and Senate Thursday, expressly prohibiting spending the funds on guns.

Here's a snippet from the letter:

We remain gravely concerned that the bills do not include language to clarify and ensure that Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) program funds under Title IV-A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) cannot be used to purchase guns or provide firearm training for educators. The Title IV-A is intended to help schools provide students with important resources and direct services—such as comprehensive mental health programs—as well as drug, violence, and bullying prevention programs. Using this program to put guns in schools would run counter to its intended use of promoting a safe and healthy school climate. 

So what has Congress said about this so far? Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee, and Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the chairman of the House education committee, say that the law gives districts flexibility here.

But Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., say that the law already contains language that prohibits spending federal funds on guns. But they want such a clarification added, too. More in this story.

Jill Collins, a 3rd grade teacher at DeLand-Weldon Elementary School, fires off a round during a concealed carry class for teachers in June at Adventure Tactical Training in Farmer City, Ill. The class was designed to help teachers feel less vulnerable in the wake of a number of recent school shootings across the country.

--David Proeber/The Pantagraph via AP


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