Senate Dems blister DeVos on proposed education budget

Senate Dems blister DeVos on proposed education budget
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats grilled Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosWhite House slams pastor leading Cabinet Bible studies for linking homosexuality, coronavirus Nation's largest union, NEA, endorses Biden for president The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes unexpected step to stem coronavirus MORE on her proposed budget at a subcommittee hearing Thursday morning.

The proposed budget would slash the federal education spending by more than $6 billion, a decrease of more than 8.5 percent.

Most of the cuts come from a major restructuring of the federal government's K-12 grant programs. The budget would consolidate 29 elementary and secondary education grant programs into one Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged Block Grant.

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DeVos, in her opening statements before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, claimed that the new $19.4 billion block grant program would "unleash new innovation at the state and local level, and continue to expand proven reforms, including public charter schools, magnet schools and student-weighted funding."

DeVos also said that test scores have remained stagnant in the 55 years the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has been in place, noting that the federal government has spent $1 trillion over the past 50 years.

However, subcommittee ranking member Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday Senate Democrats propose canceling student loan payments during coronavirus Stimulus plan hinges on McConnell, Schumer repairing toxic relationship MORE (D-Wash.) was less than impressed.

“[This] budget you are here to defend fails to invest in our public schools, educators, students and families and ignores the voices of educators in my home state of Washington and across the country," Murray told DeVos in her opening remarks.

"Schools and educators have voiced their concerns time and again," she said. "They do not have the resources they need to meet the needs of every student, nor are they properly compensated for the important work they do."

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Murray also cited that $4.7 billion of the proposed cuts would come from the K-12 grant programs being consolidated.

Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzLawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act Trump faces mounting pressure to unleash Defense Production Act Rand Paul's coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate MORE (D-Hawaii) also noted the nearly $5 billion cut.

"The basic question I have for you is, why cut $5 billion from public education?" Schatz said to DeVos.

DeVos responded: "The administration has priorities, and we had to make difficult decisions around the entirety of the budget."

Schatz shot back: "If we all agree that public education is the silver bullet, that public education is the great equalizer, then why in the world would we take $5 billion out of the federal budget for public education when almost every other executive agency is seeing an increase?" 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinWhite House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package Some Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on Senate fails to advance coronavirus stimulus bill for second time in two days MORE (D-W.Va.) was also less than enthusiastic about the proposed block grant program.

Manchin expressed concern that the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which, among other things, provides support to school-aged children suffering from homelessness, was included in the block grant consolidation. There are more than 1.5 million homeless children in the public school system, Manchin said, and more than 10,500 of them live in West Virginia.

The former West Virginia governor grew perturbed when DeVos said that his concern was "exactly the argument for doing block grant(s) to the states."

"I've been governor, so I understand block grants," Manchin told DeVos, adding that while block grants allow for flexibility, the $4.7 billion cut to the program would still make it more ineffective.

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? McConnell sets Friday night deadline for bipartisan deal on stimulus American citizen released from Lebanese prison, returning to US MORE (D-N.H.) also found issue with the budget's plan to kill the public service loan forgiveness program that was introduced in 2008. Under the law, Americans could have their student loans forgiven if they worked in public service for a decade and met other guidelines.
 
Shaheen read a letter from a constituent who became a social worker partially due to the program, and that the cancellation of the program would cause enormous financial strain.
 
Countering, DeVos said that people already enrolled in the program would be eligible for the loan forgiveness, but pivoted to say that the government should not be in the business of prioritizing a certain kind of industry — such as public service — over any other.
 
Shaheen pointed out that 99 percent of the people who had met the 10-year requirement during the Trump administration had been denied.