Wednesday, The New York Times reported Betsy DeVos—President Donald Trump's controversial Secretary of Education who came from a background with no experience with education but did make large donations to Trump causes—examined the possibility of using funds from her department budget to buy guns for public schools.
The proposal remains under review according to the report.
The federal budget is set up by Congress each fiscal year on a series of appropriations. Those appropriations designate what department can use the funds which is why a surplus of money in the Department of the Interior will not affect a budget shortfall in the Department of Health and Human Services without Congress voting to move the funds from one appropriation to another.
Then within that appropriation, Congress can earmark funds for specific programs in a department. Congress earmarked $50 million to the Department of Education for school safety meaning all of those funds must be used for that purpose alone.
However earmarked funds can also include rules.
In the case of the school safety funds, Congress enacted the provision that those specific funds could not be used to buy guns. But the Department of Education does have ways to get around that provision; use other funds in their budget appropriation that might loosely be interpreted to apply for their gun buying initiative.
Betsy DeVos targeted a program setup in federal education law—the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants—that carries no prohibition against buying guns. Whether DeVos considers the firearms to be Student Support or whether they provide Academic Enrichment remains unclear.
News of DeVos' deliberate attempt to get around the school safety restrictions specifically placed on the Education Department by Congress received negative feedback from organizations promoting an end to school shootings and other forms of gun violence.
Gabby Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman shot during a public appearance, voiced her reaction on Twitter in a series of tweets. Since the attempt to assassinate her, Giffords and her husband—NASA astronaut Mark Kelly—founded Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Giffords did not stand alone in her opinion that diverting funds from a program designated for Student Support and Academic Enrichment to purchase guns for teachers was not a solution to school shootings or safety. The National Education Association previously stated forcing teachers to use guns was not a viable or wise choice.
Twitter agreed as the following reactions show.
Some stated the gun buying program had less to do with school safety and more to do with gun manufacturer profits. The idea to arm teachers came from the largest gun industry lobbyist, the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Teachers need help buying supplies, but not guns according to several posts on Twitter.
The stated purpose of the program DeVos targeted for her gun buying program bears a mission statement to "[help] states, districts and schools provide students with a more well-rounded education." It is unclear how handing their teacher a handgun will accomplish that goal.
After the story broke, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut introduced emergency legislation to stop Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education from doing what they were expressly told not to do by Congress.
Midterm elections are slated for Tuesday, November 6, 2018.