DeVos Violated Federal Law, Failure to Act Opens Door for States to Use Federal Funds to Put More Guns in Schools

Washington, D.C.—  Today, Democracy Forward, the American Federation of Teachers, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Southern Poverty Law Center demanded that the Inspector General for the Department of Education investigate Secretary DeVos’s repeated unlawful assertions, including to Congress and the press, that she lacks authority to act in response to questions about whether Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant funds can be used to buy firearms and train educators to use them. Secretary DeVos’s assertions cannot be squared with federal law or the advice of ED’s Office of General Counsel, which came to light in an internal Department memorandum discussing this precise issue. 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[.]”

The Secretary’s failure to act opens the door for states to use these federal funds to put more guns in schools, an outcome that wastes SSAE program resources better spent on true academic enrichment programming.

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.”

On at least two occasions, Secretary DeVos has 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.”

  • Secretary DeVos repeated this legally erroneous claim on April 10, 2019 in response to questioning by Congresswoman Jahana Hayes. Secretary DeVos stated 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.”

The letter to the Inspector General demands an investigation into 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.

The letter was sent on Tuesday, May 21.

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Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.

Press Contacts:

Charisma Troiano | [email protected]

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Jason Phelps |  [email protected]