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DeVos Is Considering Allowing Federal Funds To Arm Teachers. Texas May Have Given Her The Idea.

Rachel Zein for The Texas Tribune
An educator partakes in a simulated shooting as part of a training for school marshals. School marshals are school staff trained and armed to take out a threat to their campus.

Federal education officials are considering letting school districts use federal money to buy guns for educators — and the idea may have come from Texas, according to national education outlet Education Week.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is reportedly thinking about approving state or district plans to use money from Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants to pay for arming teachers and administrators, the New York Times first reported Wednesday. The grants are intended to improve students' academic achievement, and the program does not explicitly prohibit districts from spending the funds on firearms.

A senior Trump administration official told Education Week that the idea came to federal officials after Texas officials asked whether school districts could use the grants that way.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Texas Education Agency officials said they asked federal education officials in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, to clarify whether they could use the grant funding for arming teachers — after receiving questions from their regional administrators. According to TEA, the exact inquiry sent to the U.S. Department of Education in April was: “Many have asked due to the increased focus on school safety, will allowable purchases under safe and healthy students also include such things as guns, gun training/marshal training for school personnel, metal protectors, bullet proof entries, or other services associated with crisis management?”

Federal officials never provided a final response on the matter, according to TEA’s statement.

In May, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, appeared to raise the possibility of using the federal grants to pay for school safety iniatives in a 43-page school safety action plan released after the deadly school shooting in Santa Fe. One of the initiatives he recommended expanding was the state's school marshal program, which lets some school districts choose to train some educators and maintenance staff to carry guns.

In the action plan, Abbott pointed out that Texas is expected to get $62.1 million more in Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants this year — and said districts should try to use the money for "allowable uses that are key to student safety."

"Governor Abbott will direct the TEA to modify the school district grant application to encourage school districts to use these additional funds to improve safety on our campuses," he wrote. "A safe learning environment for all students is crucial to advancing the purposes of the SSAE program. To further those purposes, TEA will urge school districts to submit SSAE applications that prioritize increased spending on school safety."

In the document, he also promised to use his office's funding to pay for all costs of training between June and August of 2018. His office did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Texas lawmakers first created the school marshal program in 2013, soon after a shooter killed dozens of people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. At the time, it was assumed that school districts would take on the costs of getting their educators licensed and trained by the state.

The plan's advocates argue the cost of training each marshal is around $500, not prohibitively expensive for school districts. But smaller, rural district officials have said the opposite, saying the cost of sending marshals to regular trainings far away takes a toll on their budgets.

The program has boomed in popularity over the last several months, as well as drawn criticism from educators and activists who argue that arming teachers only increases the access to guns for potential school shooters.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

Aliyya Swaby started as the public education reporter in October 2016. She came to the Tribune from the hyperlocal nonprofit New Haven Independent, where she covered education, zoning and transit for two years. After graduating from Yale University in 2013, she spent a year freelance reporting in Panama on social issues affecting black Panamanian communities. A native New Yorker, Aliyya misses public transportation but is thrilled by the lack of snow.