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Budget Cuts and Discrimination: What We Learned from the Betsy DeVos Congress Appearance

Betsy DeVos took a hammering from both Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday, appearing before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee regarding proposed budget cuts and discrimination of LGBTQ students.

DeVos’ vision that she tagged onto the proposed $9 billion across-the-board cuts -- a 13 percent cut to the current budget -- outlined in the administration's budget proposal was one of reforming an education system to offer parents and students more choice. DeVos argued the budget puts a focus on “programs that are proven to help students while taking a hard look at those that are well-intended, but haven't yielded meaningful results.”

Republicans told DeVos that her budget cuts which reduced or eliminated such federal work study programs as a popular college preparation program called TRIO and 21st Century Community Learning Centers, would be difficult to push through. In total, 22 programs in the Department of Education that DeVos felt were ineffective or better for private, state, or local entities to handle would be phased out. Programs covering before- and after-school programs and teacher vocational training would be hit. As well as the complete elimination of loan forgiveness for students taking public service positions.

“This is a difficult budget request to defend,” the subcommittee chair Roy Blunt, R-MO, told DeVos. Blunt further added that the possibility of the full budget cut proposal passing would likely “not occur.”

Democrats were less than kind with their opinion of the proposed cuts with Patrick Leahy, D-VT, simply summing it up as “abysmal.”

Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut, accused the education secretary of trying to create an educational system that wanted to “squeeze profits from public school dollars” and do to “public education what banks did with home mortgages.” When Murphy asked if there would be protections on taxpayer dollars to prevent the heads of for-profit education companies from becoming billionaires off a school choice “portability” program, DeVos attempted to shift the focus to student success: “If parents are making choices regardless of the tax status of the school to which they are sending them, whether it is a for-profit-managed institution or a not-for-profit, if students are achieving and parents are making the choices on behalf of their children, I think those are the better measures to be oriented around.”

Regarding whether she would protect LGBTQ students from discrimination in private schools that are part of a federal voucher program, DeVos did all she could to dodge questions.

An exchange with Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, got heated when Merkley asked about discrimination when laws regarding the issue can be “foggy.” “Are you saying that if you have a private school -- private schools generally set their own admission policies -- that they will not be allowed under your program to discriminate against LGBTQ students?” Merkley questioned.

A seemingly agitated DeVos seemed to avoid a straightforward answer replying, “Senator, I said it before and I’ll say it again, that schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law.” At this point DeVos and Merkley began to talk over one another, with Merkley attempting to ask if “discrimination would be allowed with charter or private schools?” DeVos simply replied, “Schools that get federal funds need to follow federal law.”

The Senator made a point of drawing the public’s attention to her refusal to give a “yes” or “no” answer to his questions regarding discrimination in her charter school grant program.

The discussion ultimately came to a dead-end as DeVos repeated what had become her go-to answer at this point. “As I said before, and I’ll say it again: Schools that get federal funds need to follow federal law, period.”


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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