Secretary DeVos has unlawfully, incorrectly and repeatedly asserted—to Congress, to the press, and to others—that she lacks authority to act in response to questions about whether federal Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant funds can be used to arm and train educators. Secretary DeVos’s repeated assertions cannot be squared with federal law, including the considered advice of ED’s Office of General Counsel, which came to light in an internal Department memorandum. Specifically, ED’s Office of General Counsel concluded that it is in fact “reasonable for the Secretary to disallow this particular use of the funds[.]”

On at least two occasions, Secretary DeVos asserted this erroneous view to Congress:

  • On August 31, 2018, in a letter to Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, Secretary DeVos punted the decision about whether federal funds can be used to arm educators to Congress, writing that she had “no intention of taking any action concerning the purchase of firearms or firearms training for school staff under the [Elementary and Secondary Education Act (reauthorized as ESSA)]” because “Congress did not authorize [her] or the Department to make those decisions.”
  • Sec. DeVos repeated this legally erroneous claim on April 10, 2019 in response to questioning by Congresswoman Jahana Hayes. Secretary DeVos stated again that she lacked authority to decide whether firearms and training are allowable expenses for SSAE grants. Secretary DeVos maintained this claim, despite being presented with the Department’s memo concluding it would be “reasonable for the Secretary to disallow this particular use of the funds absent specific Congressional authorization.”

Sec. DeVos’ failure to act opens the door for states to use these federal funds to allow more guns in schools. That outcome wastes SSAE program resources better spent on true academic enrichment programming.  

We and our partners demanded that the Inspector General investigate the process by which Secretary DeVos came to the decision to not take any action, and efforts by the Department to counsel states and localities over the use of ESSA funds. We sent our letter on May 21, 2019.

The groups issued the following statement:

“Secretary DeVos tried to wash her hands of the responsibility to decide whether federal funds can be used to arm teachers. But there is no question she has the authority to prevent this dangerous and misguided use of funds, as her own Office of General Counsel confirms, and it violates federal law to justify her inaction with misstatements. The only question here is whether she has the moral courage to keep our children safe.”

Ben Seel

Counsel & Legal Analyst

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