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Betsy DeVos’ Letter on Use of Federal $$ to Purchase Firearms for Schools: *If It Happens, It Happens…*

September 6, 2018

US ed sec Betsy DeVos is fine with use of federal dollars to arm schools, and she is trying to advance her position with finesse: DeVos writes that she’s not going to actively campaign for use of federal money to purchase firearms and firearms training for school personnel, but she’s also not going to interfere should it happen.

Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos

DeVos supports her noninterference position by noting that former president, Obama, and former US ed sec, John King, issued Title IV “guidance” that offers “substantial flexibility”– and for DeVos, that dot-connecting includes the flexibility for states and districts to use Title IV money to purchase guns and train school staff how to use those guns.

In short, the Obama-King Title IV guidance is useful to DeVos because the “substantial flexibility” wording provides strategic reasoning for DeVos to be okay with the use of federal funds to arm teachers. No blame can be laid at her feet for those federally-funded gun sales; after all, her predecessors (Democrats, no doubt!) opened that door.

It’s all in her August 31, 2018, letter to Representative Bobby Scott.

Full text below:

August 31, 2018

Honorable Bobby Scott
Ranking Member
Committee on Education and the Workforce
U. S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC  20515

Dear Representative Scott:

I write in response to you August 28, 2018 letter concerning recent claims made by the media suggesting that I am pursuing a plan to authorize States and local school districts to use funds under Title IV-A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (“ESEA”) to purchase firearms or conduct firearms training for school staff.

Let me be clear: I have no intention of taking any action concerning the purchase of firearms or firearms training for school staff under the ESEA.

As you know, Article I of the U.S. Constitution vests legislative authority in Congress. Congress has authorized and appropriated funding for the Title IV-A program “to improve students’ academic achievement by increasing the capacity of States, local education agencies, schools and local communities to (1) provide all students with access to a well-rounded education; (2) improve school conditions for student learning; and (3) improve the use of technology in order to improve the academic achievement and digital literacy of all students.” 20 USC § 7111.

In October 2016, under President Obama and Secretary King, the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) issued Title IV-A guidance to states and local education agencies.1 That guidance highlights the role of States in determining whether an activity is an allowable use of funds. Further, it reiterates that, while local education agencies must comply with certain application and fiscal requirements, the ESEA provides “substantial flexibility” in how school districts use these funds to meet the purposes of the program and allows educators to tailor investments based on their own assessment of the needs of their unique student populations.2 Congress did not authorize me or the Department to make those decisions. As I have stated publicly on numerous occasions since I was nominated for this position, I will not legislate via fiat from the Department.. Therefore, I will not take any action that would expand or restrict the responsibilities and flexibilities granted to State and local education agencies by Congress.

I appreciate your interest in this matter and am sending an identical response to the cosigners of your letter. In the future, please feel free to contact me directly to discuss policy matters, instead of relying on faulty reporting. You can reach me at (202) 401-3000 or As always, Peter Oppenheim, Assistant Secretary for Legislation and Congressional Affairs, is available at (202) 401-0020 any time you or your staff have any questions.



Betsy DeVos

1U.S. department of Education, Non-Regulatory Guidance: Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (Oct. 2016).

2Id. at pp. 15 and 38.

Some of the “faulty reporting” to which DeVos might be referring is this August 22, 2018, New York Times piece:

The Education Department is considering whether to allow states to use federal funding to purchase guns for educators, according to multiple people with knowledge of the plan. …

…The department is eyeing a program in federal education law, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, that makes no mention of prohibiting weapons purchases. That omission would allow the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, to use her discretion to approve any state or district plans to use grant funding for firearms and firearm training, unless Congress clarifies the law or bans such funding through legislative action. …

In its research, the Education Department has determined that the gun purchases could fall under improving school conditions, people familiar with the department’s thinking said.

In her letter to Rep. Scott, DeVos implies that she is merely following legislative decree. However, the “guidance” associated with that legislative decree– in other words, the advice to states on how to interpret Title IV language– originated with a former secretary of education.

DeVos pretends that she is bound to such guidance, but she is not. In fact, she is well aware of her ability to overturn ESEA guidance docs from previous secretaries of education, as clearly evidenced in her 2017 approach to Title IX guidance.

On September 22, 2017, DeVos announced her decision to overturn Obama-era Title IX guidance  on campus sexual assault, adding, “As I said earlier this month, the era of rule by letter is over. The Department of Education will follow the proper legal procedures to craft a new Title IX regulation that better serves students and schools.” On September 07, 2017, DeVos made it clear that she planned to do so, as CNN reports:

DeVos was asked in an interview with CBS News’ Jan Crawford if Thursday’s announcement meant she was “rescinding the Obama administration guidelines.”
“Well, that’s the intention, and we’ve begun the process to do so,” DeVos said to Crawford. “As I’ve said earlier, in all of this discussion, it really is a process not an event.” …
Critics have said the guidance is unfair toward the accused and could jeopardize their futures, as the guidance lowered the standard for proving allegations. This criticism is what DeVos echoed in her speech Thursday, when she shared stories of both survivors and “victims of a lack of due process.”

So, DeVos’ “let me be clear” decision regarding  “no intention of taking any action concerning the purchase of firearms or firearms training for school staff under the ESEA” is nothing more than her deciding that the Obama-King Title IV guidance serves her position that using federal funds to arm teachers is just fine.

There are bears to fight.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. P. Schwarz permalink

    Just another day in Crazytown!

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