Education Secretary Betsy DeVos got put through the wringer during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Tuesday about her department’s draconian 2018 budget proposal—one that would increase federal funding for private institutions while slashing support for programs for low-income students and potentially accelerating a nationwide student loan debt crisis.
DeVos also repeatedly dodged answers to pointed questions about civil rights protections—namely, whether the Department of Education would fund schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students or on the basis of religion.
The most direct line of questioning came from Senator of Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who asked DeVos if such discrimination “would be allowed with charter or private schools.”
“Schools that receive federal funds will follow federal law, period.” DeVos responded.
However, when pressed by Merkley to affirm that she would ban discrimination,—or that she interpreted federal law to mean that LGBTQ students would be protected—DeVos didn’t provide a direct answer, reverting instead back to her previous statement about following federal law. She also said that she wouldn’t be issuing any “decrees” about what schools should do.
Throughout the hearing, as senators called her proposed budget “abysmal” and “devastating,” DeVos smiled tightly and maintained that it would return power and flexibility to students and their families, as well as to the states. But what became increasingly clear was that the “power” in question was really the power to foot the bill.
At one point, DeVos flatly said that some of the programs on the department’s chopping block would be “better supported through state, local or philanthropic efforts.”
Citing the story of Michael Biagoni from East Hartford, CT—a student who likened his high school to “adult daycare”—DeVos lamented that a student could receive “a diploma but not an education.”
Senator Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire asked DeVos specifically about the withdrawal of federal funds to support one particularly successful program in New Hampshire, a 21st Century Community Learning Center, asking her why she would reduce opportunities for students who need it the most.
Smiling, DeVos reassured Shaheen that her state now “has the opportunity to support” that program itself.