Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Tuesday morning about the proposed budget for the Department of Education. Despite lingering controversy, DeVos defended the proposal.
President Donald J. Trump’s first complete budget proposal, released May 23, calls for a 13.5 percent spending cut for the Department of Education in 2018, down $9.2 billion from 2017.
The current proposed budget plan would eliminate 22 programs from the department. Among such programs is the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, which provides need-based aid to 1.6 million college students each year.
In a March interview LSA senior Enrique Zalamea, president of the University’s chapter of the College Republicans, said he does not believe cutting this particular program is detrimental, seeing as it has received criticism for being inefficient.
“A large portion of this budget cut comes from the reduction of the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant; an outdated program that gives money directly to colleges as opposed to low-income students,” he said.
The Pell Grant — the largest federal grant program for low-income students — will be extended through a year-round Pell opportunity.
In her opening statement, DeVos said the budget lays out proposals to ensure equal opportunity in education.
“This budget lays out a series of proposals and priorities that work toward ensuring every student has an equal opportunity to receive a great education,” she said. “It focuses on returning decision-making power and flexibility to the states, where it belongs, and giving parents more control over their child’s education, a right that has been denied for too long.”
DeVos also affirmed all schools receiving federal money must follow federal laws regarding discrimination.
U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D–Ore.) prompted DeVos further, stating the laws surrounding such discrimination are “foggy.”
“Are you saying that if you have a private school — private schools generally set their own admission policies — that they they will not be allowed, under your program, to discriminate against LGBTQ students?” he questioned.
DeVos again affirmed all schools receiving federal funds must follow federal guidance, to which Merkley restated his prompt — that federal law is unclear. He asked if, in her understanding of the law, such discrimination would be allowed.
“On areas where the law is unsettled, this department is not going to be issuing decrees — that is a matter for Congress and the courts to settle,” DeVos said.
Merkley interrupted DeVos, asking if discrimination would be allowed or not. When she again stated it was a matter for the courts, Merkley accused her of not answering the question. He went on to suggest, by DeVos’s understanding, discrimination would be allowed. He asked about discrimination on the basis of religion as well, to which she responded similarly by saying schools that receive federal money will follow federal regulations.
“I think that’s very important for the public to know that today the Secretary of Education, before this committee, refused to affirm that should would put forward a program that would ban discrimination based on LGBTQ status of students or ban discrimination based on religion,” Merkley said.
DeVos explained such accusation was not correct, as that is not what she said.
“Discrimination in any form is wrong,” she said. “I do not support discrimination in any form.”
Merkley asked if her program to support private and charter schools bans discrimination.
DeVos again explained the schools receiving federal money would have to abide by federal law.
According to Politico, the DeVos family has, in the past, donated to anti-gay and conversion therapy groups.
DeVos, who hails from Holland, Michigan, has had a contentious term as Secretary of Education — her confirmed recieved mixed results among University of Michigan students and her appointment has potential to threaten Title IX enforcement. Michigan education activists such Steve Norton have come across groups funded by the DeVos family many times over the years.
“It’s really stunning to see folks out there who honestly believe public schools ought to be eliminated and left only to the hopeless cases,” he said in a December interview. “And everyone feels like they ought to be in private schools. The people, through their government, should have no role in actually operating the schools. I find that dismaying.”
Students interested in the education field have also displayed concern during DeVos’ time in her job. Education junior David Mack expressed concern that he will be looking for a job in the teaching field at the same time some of DeVos’s policies are being implemented.
“I will also say that it’s pretty worrying knowing that right as I’m entering the real world as a teacher will be right in the midst of all her policies, and things like cuts to public school funding with more focus on vouchers are pretty scary to me,” he said. “Like we all know public schools don’t get enough funding as it is, so the fact that she’s hacking that down even further worries me.”
Mack further explained he believes public schools should be well-funded enough to serve a wide array of students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Public schools should be, first, accessible to anyone, and second, well-funded enough that anyone who attends them can go on and use what they’ve learned to do more in life.”
In a December interview, LSA senior Grant Strobl, national chairman of the Young Americans for Freedom board of governors, said he was happy about Devos’ appointment — specifically citing her support of vouchers.
“Frankly, the ineptitude and corruption of the Detroit Public Schools has squandered the future of generations of Detroit’s children. Unfortunately, Detroit is not alone,” he wrote in an email. “Many public schools in this country are keeping children in the cycle of poverty. I am confident Betsy DeVos will be innovative, including the possible creation of a voucher program, to give each child the education they need and deserve.”
LSA junior Lauren Schandevel, public relations chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats and a columnist for the Daily, emphasized that it is not only DeVos’s desire to profit off of public schools that is concerning, but also her complete disregard for the wellbeing of students.
“While Betsy DeVos’ prioritization of for-profit schools over traditional publics is concerning, her blatant disinterest in enforcing anti-discrimination laws in the very schools she is seeking to strengthen only further demonstrates what little regard she has for students,” she wrote in a message.
The University’s chapter of College Republicans did not respond at the time of publishing.