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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is reportedly weighing whether to allow schools to pay for guns using federal money.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is reportedly weighing whether to allow schools to pay for guns using federal money.

U.S. Department of Education

New York leaders push back as DeVos weighs whether schools can buy guns with federal money

New York education leaders swiftly condemned the possibility that schools could use federal money to buy guns, calling the idea “misguided and dangerous,” “mind-boggling,” and “stupid.”

After deadly school shootings in Florida and Texas reignited intense debates about how to keep students safe, the New York Times reported late Wednesday that the U.S. Education Department is weighing whether Secretary Betsy DeVos could allow schools to use grant money to purchase firearms and train school staffers to use them.

The move was prompted by requests from Texas and Oklahoma to tap into federal money to pay for “school marshals,” according to reports in Politico and Education Week.

New York Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said in a joint emailed statement that the money would be better spent on supporting students’ emotional needs.

“There is no place in our schools for weapons, no matter the intentions,” the statement said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the proposal “would actually put our children at greater risk by making guns more accessible in the worst possible place: our classrooms.”

“New York cannot and will not be party to this insanity,” he said in an emailed statement.

At issue is a $1 billion federal grant program meant to help schools with many poor students by providing, for example, more mental health supports. But the grant does not explicitly ban buying weapons — an omission that the Times reported could allow DeVos to approve state and district spending on firearms.

Given the quick pushback from state leaders leaders, it’s highly unlikely that New York would petition to use the federal grants to buy guns. But legislators here recently wrangled over whether to station armed guards in schools — something that most New Yorkers support, according to recent polling.

Here’s is how education leaders from across the state reacted to the news.

New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia, speaking at a panel organized by City & State:

If we’re talking about arming teachers – what do you want teachers to be working and thinking about in their classroom? Where their gun is, to make sure that that’s locked away? If it’s locked away and they have a crisis occur, are they going to get to it fast enough? Is that where we want the minds of our teachers? […] I don’t know how guns fit into better literacy skills, better mathematics, and preparing you for what you need to do in the next part of your life to make decisions critical for you to be successful.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in an emailed statement:

With this plan, the President is putting the NRA over the lives of our teachers and our students. There is no evidence that giving guns to educators — who are not trained security personnel — will make our schools any safer, but it is clear that making guns more accessible will pose a reckless new and unnecessary danger. It is particularly repugnant that the federal government is reportedly considering using funding intended for academic and enrichment opportunities in schools serving low-income students. The President wants to take federal dollars away from students in need to line the pockets of the NRA and the gun industry. … As our children prepare for a new school year, we want them to return to safe and secure environments, not weaponized schools. In New York, we have led the way with the toughest gun laws in the nation, and we won’t let President Trump and this federal government take us backward.

New York City Councilman Mark Treyger, speaking at a panel organized by City & State:

This is coming from an education secretary who believes one of the biggest threats to our students across America are grizzly bears… You have schools that still need cooling systems, you have schools with very antiquated and old infrastructure. […] You have schools across America where you have grossly underpaid under-appreciated educators. You have schools that are lacking critical social and emotional supports, including here in New York City. These are just more insane disconnected, out-of-touch words and ideas that are coming out of Washington, and they have consequences.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, speaking at a panel organized by City & State:

You have to understand that the person who put forward this stupid idea also is leading the charge to take federal money out of education. We can laugh about this and talk about the absurdity of it, but at the same time it’s a distraction from the greater plan — which is to make the federal government no longer invest in education. That is really the scary part of all of this.

New York City schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, in an emailed statement: 

We need less guns in schools, not more. We need to arm teachers with resources to meet the needs of our students and families — that’s a better use of federal, state, and local resources. In New York City, we work with the finest police department in the world to ensure our schools are safe.