Local educators and politicians expressed skepticism over the use of educational funds to arm teachers in schools after reports emerged last week that the federal Department of Education is considering such a policy.

The New York Times reported on Aug. 22 that the Department of Education, led by Secretary Betsy DeVos, is considering allowing federal grants awarded through a program designed to improve students’ “academic achievement” to be used to purchase weapons without congressional approval. This would give schools the ability to request such funding directly from the education department.

On Aug. 23, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. proposed legislation to prevent Title IV funds — including those allotted under the Student Support and Academic Enrichment — from being used to equip school staff with weapons. Murphy’s proposal was introduced as an amendment to the health and human services, education and labor appropriations bill that is currently being debated on the floor of the Senate.

“The Secretary of Education cares more about the firearm industry’s bottom line than the safety of our kids,” Murphy said in a statement. “More kids will be killed in schools if this policy is put in place — plain and simple. That’s why Congress must block its implementation.”

A Trump administration official contested the Times report with CNN, saying that the Texas Educational Agency approached the department seeking clarity on the issue of whether firearms might be bought with such federal funds, a request to which the department did not respond.

William Clark, the chief operating officer of the New Haven Board of Education wrote in an email to the News that arming teachers is not something the board’s security task force — a committee that includes leaders from the school board, emergency operations center, and the police and fire departments — has supported or recommended.

“Funding for education programs, school meal and food programs and health programs among others are all targeted under [DeVos’] watch for cuts, yet this is her focus?” Clark wrote. “Her priorities seem to be contrary to the actual needs of public schools and students.”

Clark said it would be more constructive for the department to focus on public education funding — rather than the private-sector “school choice” voucher funding DeVos has long supported.

While the report has sparked anew the national debate around firearms near schools, the concept of arming teachers is not a new one to the present administration.

In March, in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the Trump administration proposed arming and training personnel and staff around schools to bolster security. The plan followed earlier calls by Trump in February to arm teachers as a means of preventing school shootings.

In response to Trump’s February comments, Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut Education Association, a teachers’ union, condemned the idea of arming teachers. At the time, a number of parents whose children had died in the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school also came forward to criticize the proposal.

In an interview with the News this week, Glen Worthy, the principal of New Haven’s Hillhouse High School, said he was not sure how arming teachers would “protect our kids.”

“I don’t think it will make our school safer,” he said Tuesday. “And I don’t think our kids would feel any safer [for] the fact that our teachers have guns … I think [DeVos] should be focusing all of our efforts and providing resources to kids who truly need it.”

Worthy also raised the issue of racial dynamics and the related psychological effect that arming teachers could have on students. Many of Hillhouse High’s students are black and Hispanic, while many teachers are white. Worthy said he would be concerned about the effect gun-toting teachers would have on students of color who have grown up in an era fraught with racial tensions stemming partly from the shootings of African-Americans by law enforcement officials.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, is the ranking member on the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which is responsible for the education department’s funding. On Aug. 23, DeLauro issued a joint statement with Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, condemning the idea of arming teachers and the Trump administration’s consideration of it.

“Arming teachers is not the answer to school shootings, and it is outrageous that Secretary DeVos would even consider using taxpayer dollars on such a dangerous proposal,” the statement reads. “This proposal is reckless and wrong, and House Democrats will work to block this outrageous waste of money from every being implemented.”

Republicans, on the other hand, are generally more supportive of such measures. The National Rifle Association has long stood behind arming teachers and individuals at schools, with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre calling for schools to be the “most hardened targets” for potential shooters to attack at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference.

An NPR-Ipsos poll found that while 59 percent of Americans are against arming teachers in schools, 68 percent of Republicans are in favor of it.

Sen. Murphy will appear on Sep. 6 via video link alongside five student organizers from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School at “Fighting for Gun Reform, Marching for Our Lives: A conversation on Gun Reform and Public Health” held at Yale Law School.

Keshav Raghavan | keshav.raghavan@yale.edu