Appropriations

Democrats spar with DeVos at hearing, say Trump budget would 'privatize education'

Democrats sparred with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday, arguing the Trump administration's latest budget proposal attempts to "privatize education."

House Democrats on a House Appropriations subcommittee criticized the Education Department's spending request, with Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) calling it "unacceptable" and saying it would "risk exacerbating the financial challenges of under-resourced rural districts."

"I just want to say to you, with all sincerity, this is not going to happen," DeLauro told DeVos. "You are clearly again, in my view, seeking to privatize public education. I hope that we have been clear that we are not going to do that."

DeVos defended the budget request, saying she is "not out to privatize anything about education."

"I'm out to make sure every student is personalized, individualized for them, that they find the right fit to unlock their potential," DeVos told members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.

Democrats took issue with the Education Department's desire to consolidate different forms of grant programs into one block grant to the states. DeVos argued the move would provide states and schools more flexibility on how to split up grant money to address issues like school safety and mental health care.

Democratic lawmakers are also concerned about the potential for discrimination on the basis of race, religion or sexual orientation at private institutions that receive federal funding.

Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) asked the secretary if she would "guarantee" taxpayer money would only go to schools with nondiscrimination policies.

DeVos said the budget would help states create programs "to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and needy students" in their state. Clark said that would leave the decision up to the states.

"To say that you would stand up for kids is appalling, and you really should resign," she said.

Clark has previously called for DeVos to step down.

Some Republicans, like Rep. John Moolenaar (Mich.), backed the administration's block grant initiative, saying it would help schools address issues that are "identified on the ground."

"This is really what our school district needs," he said.

House Democrats also attacked the secretary for not providing race and ethnicity data on suspensions in schools.

"We ask you over and over and over again every year," Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said, referring to the requested data.

"I am committed to each of those children as you are," DeVos replied. 

"But you're not showing that," Lee said.

 

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) criticized the department's allocation of funding to charter schools, citing a report that found some schools misused the funds. DeVos said those findings were "debunked."

"Do you think charter schools who receive federal funding should be allowed to use those funds to purchase private jets? A yes or no question," Pocan said. 

"It's not a yes or no question," she answered.

"Actually it is. Actually it really is," he replied back.

After Moolenaar complained about the "tone" of the hearing, DeLauro cited a "level of frustration" that Democrats are experiencing without a "serious evaluation of which ones work and which ones don't."

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