The budget request from the Department of Education was an instant failure when it arrived before Congress, and many of the programs that the budget either proposed to cut back or eliminate altogether were defended by both Democrats and Republicans. The budget proposal was championed by Betsy DeVos, the head of the Department of Education.
DeVos, who serves as the Secretary of Eduction, also made some clarifying statements regarding what she said last month in the House during the meeting with the senate appropriations subcommittee. While she ensured that students with disabilities would be protected under the law in relation to federal school choice programs, she failed to pledge any other protections that aren’t already federal law. When asked directly, DeVos would give no response in regard to the federal government’s responsibility to protect minority or LGBT students by intervening where states provide vouchers to such discriminatory schools.
In the fiscal year of 2018, the proposed budget from the Department of Education would have seen a reduction of $9.2 billion, which would have taken the total budget to $59 billion down from $68.2 billion that was calculated would be necessary based on annualized spending levels. According to the budget proposal, $1.4 billion in additional funds would have been given to school choice programs, like charter schools and school vouchers.
The chairman of the subcommittee, Senator Roy Blunt, was firmly direct with Secretary DeVos in regards to the proposed cuts to federal aid for programs before and after school. He said that those sorts of cuts would essentially be impossible to pass through the committee, and that if they were to go through, they would mean limited opportunities for students seeking technical education through career training.
One area of the budget that saw significant cuts related to certain grants that are meant to offer teachers aid with professional development. Thad Cochran, the chairman of the senate appropriations committee, said that these programs and grants are critical for the support of teachers, and he went on to say federal programs of that sort should be strengthened via the budget, not weakened.
According to DeVos, who defended the proposal and all the cuts it contained, the 22 programs that were to be removed from the budget were either ineffective or their function was duplicated somewhere else. She also claimed that some of the programs were better suited for control through local or even private enterprise, which should come as no surprise when Devos’ history in education, or lack thereof, is taken into account.
In further showcase of her lack of knowledge regarding how children learn, DeVos claimed that one of the most massive cuts in the budget was for an after-school program, and that the Department of Education was only focused on the school day itself.
Others on the committee were concerned with the voucher program that would allocate $250 million for students to help pay for private schools. Patty Murray, the senator from Washington, asked DeVos if students would be protected from discrimination when selecting a private school through the voucher program. DeVos only confirmed that students with disabilities would be protected from discrimination, but that is a step forward considering she didn’t even confirm that fact during her recent appearance before the House.
When asked about students who could be discriminated against based on a number of other civil right issues, DeVos refused to pledge those students would be protected as well. She claimed that state and local jurisdictions should make those decisions regarding discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, or any other factor. However, what DeVos fails to realize is that the voucher program would be a federally funded program, which means the funds are coming from out of state and therefore schools that use such funds can not be given the freedom to make those choices.
In an obvious attempt to skirt the question, DeVos responded by saying that if federal funds are given to a school, that school must follow federal law. Interestingly enough, the federal laws that would have to be followed should be included in the language of the new voucher program, but that language was left out. When pushed about the issue of LGBT students and the discrimination they already face, DeVos was adamant in her refusal to confirm those students would be protected. Existing federal law isn’t completely clear on the subject of LGBT discrimination in relation to students, and if such an issue makes it to court, the decision is usually left to the discretion of the judge.