Washington – The possibility the Trump administration would allow the use of federal funds to buy guns for teachers prompted Sen. Chris Murphy on Thursday to try to block the move through legislation.
Murphy is trying to introduce an amendment that would bar Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from using any federal funds to arm teachers in a bill under consideration by the Senate Thursday. The bill Murphy is trying to amend would fund the Education Department.
“Congress doesn’t think this is a good idea. Parents don’t think this is a good idea. Teachers don’t think this is a good idea,” Murphy said in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday.
Murphy’s amendment is co-sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal and a number of other Senate Democrats.
Murphy conceded that consideration of his legislation is a long-shot since the “hour is late” for the Senate to finish work on a package of spending bills that include Education Department funding for fiscal year 2019. But he said he would continue to press for a ban on the use of federal dollars to arm teachers when the House and Senate negotiate a final spending bill.
The New York Times was the first to report that DeVos is considering reversing a longstanding position taken by the federal government that it should not pay for guns in schools. The story said DeVos is considering using federal dollars not only to pay for weapons, but to also train teachers to use them.
Congress voted in March for a school safety bill allocating $50 million in grants to local school districts; that bill prohibited using any of the money for firearms.
“The policy in this Congress is that federal funds should not be used to arm teachers,” Murphy said.
According to the Times story, DeVos is not looking to tap school safety grants, but is focused instead on a separate Education Department program that provides money for a variety of school initiatives and does not bar spending on weapons or firearms training.
On Thursday, Education Department officials said the issue of using federal funds to arm teachers was raised initially by officials from Texas and Oklahoma.
The idea of arming teachers is a controversial one, but it gained traction after President Donald Trump floated the proposal several times after February’s deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
A number of states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Washington, allow teachers to be armed.
In Connecticut and other states, local school districts determine whether teachers and school resources officers are allowed to carry guns.
The nation’s largest teachers union is staunchly opposed to arming educators.
On Thursday, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said “the idea of arming teachers is ill-conceived, preposterous, and dangerous.”
“Arming teachers and other school personnel does nothing to prevent gun violence,” she said.
Eskelsen Garcia said the money that would be used to arm teachers is now allotted for mental health, bullying prevention, arts enrichments and other needed programs.
“To take that money away from our students and use it to put guns into our classrooms is outrageous and unacceptable,” she said.
Murphy said there have been a number of accidents involving armed school personnel, including a teacher in California whose gun went off accidentally and injured three students, and other incidences involving school resource officers who have a background in handling firearms.
“Our teachers are the greatest multi-taskers in the country,” he said. “We don’t need to give them another job description.”
Murphy also said DeVos’ startling response to his question about guns in schools during her Senate confirmation hearing was “no joke.”
DeVos told Murphy that guns may be needed in some schools to defend against grizzly bears.
Besides Murphy, a number of other Democrats also nixed the idea, including Jahana Hayes, a former national Teacher of the Year, who is running for Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s congressional seat.
“I have said time and time again that arming teachers is my absolute… it is the issue that I will never budge on,” Hayes said in a campaign statement. “Federal education funding needs to go into the classroom, not towards a horribly misguided idea to arm teachers that will not make our children any safer.”
A longtime former history teacher at John F. Kennedy High School, Hayes also said, “I have spent more time in the classroom than either President Trump or Secretary DeVos, and I can tell you without a doubt that guns in a classroom do not ‘improve school conditions’ as the department is prepared to argue.”
Manny Santos, the Republican running for Esty’s 5th District seat, said he “inclined to be in favor” of DeVos’ proposal.
“I’m in favor of states and local school boards to be given the flexibility to use their limited funds in the best way they deem necessary,” Santos said.
Santos also said “in today’s violent climate of mass-school shootings, it’s important that we promote public policy that allows Americans to defend themselves and their loved ones.”
“Our Second Amendment rights should not stop when school starts,” he said.