New York will not allow schools to use federal or state money to buy guns, according to a memo sent Wednesday by state education officials to school district leaders across New York.
“We simply cannot afford to use federal education dollars that are intended for teaching and learning to pay for weapons that will compromise our schools and communities,” wrote New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.
The notice comes on the heels of reports in August that U.S. education Secretary Betsy DeVos was weighing whether schools could use federal grant money to purchase firearms and train educators to use them, reigniting a debate about how to keep students safe in the wake of deadly school shootings across the country. The move was reportedly prompted by requests from Texas and Oklahoma to tap into federal money to pay for “school marshals.”
DeVos ultimately left it to local districts to decide how to use the grant in question, writing in a letter to Congress that she would not take “any action concerning the purchase of firearms or firearms training for school staff.”
New York officials made their own decision known this week. Elia said that spending education dollars on weapons is “inconsistent” with the federal education law Every Student Succeeds Act, which governs everything from testing to how to support struggling schools. The memo points to a section of the law that references “the creation and maintenance of a school environment that is free of weapons” under its definition of drug and violence prevention programs.
State officials also argue that the purchase of firearms does not meet the requirements for what’s “reasonable and necessary” to implement the federal Title IV grant, a $1 billion program under ESSA.
“The purchase of guns is neither reasonable nor necessary for meeting the purpose of the program,” the memo says.
Elia asserts that states have “long held” the right to interpret federal rules and can even curtail the use of funds for activities “that may technically be allowable.” Her memo adds that schools would also be banned from using any other federal or state money for “purchasing, storing, or training school staff in the use of firearms under any circumstances.”
It was already highly unlikely that any New York districts would seek to arm school staff — especially in New York City, the largest district in the state and the country. Chancellor Richard Carranza has been unreserved about his insistence that guns don’t belong in schools, and even stepped in to moderate a discussion about arming teachers during a recent visit to a Bronx high school psychology class.
“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,” Carranza said in a statement last month.
On the other hand, recent polling shows that most New Yorkers support stationing armed guards in schools.