Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was grilled by Democrats about the White House’s proposed budget cuts to the department during a congressional hearing on Wednesday.
“I believe your budget proposal would do harm to students in every facet of education,” said Nita Lowey of New York, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee subcommittee. “[It’s] another example of the broken promises in the Trump budget that would harm hard-working Americans and would set us back in preparing a 21st century workforce.”
The proposed 2018 budget for the Department of Education would slash 13.5 percent — $9.2 billion — from its current budget, and more than $140 billion over the next decade. It would make it more difficult to obtain student loans and cancel a student-loan forgiveness program that currently affects 400,000 people.
Some aid to students is increased rather than decreased in the proposed budget. For example, undergraduates would be allowed to use Pell Grants to take summer classes. And DeVos defended such measures.
“There is a proposal for a $250 million investment in the innovation portion of the budget that would help fund some pilot test programs around school choice,” DeVos said in response to criticism of the budget proposal’s support for vouchers and school choice. “Everyone talks about vouchers, but there are many ways to provide parents with choices.”
The budget calls for funding of charter schools to be increased by $167 million in 2018.
A key point of contention during the hearing concerned the standards to which private schools that have voucher students would be held, and what rights students in the voucher program would be afforded.
“I have to make the point again with regard to vouchers for students with disabilities,” Lowey said. “With information that I’ve looked into, [there are] no process rights under [the Individual with Disabilities in Education Act].” During her confirmation hearing, DeVos did not appear to know what the IDEA, originally passed in 1975, required of public schools.
When asked repeatedly by Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts whether she would withhold federal funds from schools that actively discriminate against students, DeVos declined to give a direct answer.
In a Department of Education budget hearing on Capitol Hill, Betsy DeVos wouldn't say if an anti-LGBTQ school will be federally funded pic.twitter.com/5Dkku2Xge0
— VICE News (@vicenews) May 24, 2017
Realistically, the final budget passed by Congress — if it indeed does manage to pass a budget — won’t look anything like the White House’s proposal. Democrats are preparing to weaponize Trump’s suggested budget cuts, which in addition to education target social services and environmental protection, in the 2018 midterm elections.
Since taking office, the billionaire DeVos has affirmed her ultra-conservative education credentials, which she originally displayed in Michigan. She has helped roll back Obama-era protections for trans students (the new budget proposal includes a $2 million cut to the department’s Office of Civil Rights), and she recently compared opponents of school choice policies to “flat-Earthers.”
DeVos was greeted by furious protesters at her first visit to a public school after being sworn in as education secretary, and she was met by loud booing from students who turned their backs on her when she delivered a commencement speech earlier this month at a historically black university.
DeVos is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Thursday to discuss the proposed budget and federal student loan payments. On Wednesday, BuzzFeed News reported the resignation of the Education Department’s chief operating officer in charge of student aid — he was hired during the Obama administration — who cited his refusal to testify at Thursday’s “politicized” hearing.