Should Federal Education Funds Be Spent on Purchasing Guns?
Eight months ago, today, on February 14, 2018, the unimaginable happened. A local high school in Parkland, Florida experienced a massacre of 17 student and teacher fatalities by a mentally unstable teenager with an AR-15. Another 17 students were injured, and over 3,000 students, staff and their families would never be the same again. Neither would the greater Broward County, Florida community, the state, or the nation. A senseless tragedy on Valentine’s Day – a day of love.
I am a retired principal whose elementary school was a feeder school into Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. One of my students who I knew from kindergarten through fifth grade was killed and his younger brother was injured. How much can a family endure? I, myself, was shaken to the core.
This past Friday, October 12, I attended an annual breakfast for our public-school district’s education foundation. It was a celebration of six distinguished alumni who had contributed amazing success to education and community achievement. In lieu of the grand award for lifetime achievement, a special tribute was held to honor the “Marjorie Stoneman Douglas 17 Fallen Eagles” – the students and teachers who lost their lives on that fateful day.
Meanwhile, in our nation’s capital, just two weeks prior, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions met in a full committee hearing to address the implementation and 18-billion-dollar funding of the bipartisan “Every Student Succeeds Act “(ESSA) which was passed in December 2015 and replaces the “No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. The “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) gives more autonomy and decision-making power to the states and local school districts on how student performance will be assessed, for example using multiple measures instead of only one state test. It also gives teachers a seat at the table to discuss teacher evaluations and along with parents and communities, the design of innovative programs to increase student achievement for all students.
However, one of the issues discussed during this hearing was the growing number of deadly school shootings. (https://www.help.senate.gov/hearings/the-every-student-succeeds-act-states-leading-the-way) Specifically, Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education, believes districts have the flexibility to arm teachers using federal funds provided under ESSA. This potential loophole in the education law falls under the $1.165 billion flexible Title IV Part A block grant funds called Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants. This portion authorizes 1) providing students with a well-rounded education, such as STEM, arts, civics and advanced placement classes, 2) supporting safe and healthy students with comprehensive school mental health, drug and violence prevention, health and physical education, and 3) supporting the effective use of technology backed by professional development, blended learning and educational technology devices. https://www.iste.org/docs/advocacy-resources/title-iv-fact-sheet-for-essa_final.pdf)
It is under provision 2, “violence prevention,” that some states are pursuing the possibility of purchasing guns and paying for teacher training to use them. A school safety bill passed by Congress earlier this year prohibits the use of federal funds for guns, but the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants fall outside the law. The spirit of the flexibility in the Title IV Part A portion of the ESSA education law was not to arm teachers, but to focus on creating positive climates where students feel welcome, safe and ready to learn.
So, what do you think?
Will Federal Funds be added to the coffers of the National Rifle Association?
Will our schools become prisons with wardens replacing teachers and a focus on fear replacing the joy of learning?
Did our forefathers envision children and schools when they wrote “a well regulated Militia,” and the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms” in the Second Amendment of our United States Constitution?
Will voters go to the polls in November and elect officials that will legislate “common sense gun reform?”
Meanwhile, the faces of the fallen remain fresh in my mind and in those of the families and friends of the “MSD 17 Fallen Eagles” and all others across our nation that have been victims of deadly and senseless gun violence…
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