There were few fireworks Wednesday as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified before a House appropriations subcommittee on the Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal. DeVos deflected much of the skepticism she received and continued to push the administration’s support of school choice.
President Trump’s proposal, which has drawn sharp criticism from educators and lawmakers alike, calls for $1.4 billion to expand school choice — namely vouchers and charter schools — but slashes $10.6 billion from after-school programs, teacher training and federal student loans and grants.
In her opening statement, DeVos said Trump’s budget proposal would return power to states and school districts and give parents a choice in their child’s education.
Democrats, including New York Rep. Nita Lowey, accused DeVos of taking money from public schools to fund school choice.
“We’re not proposing any shifting of funding from public schools to private schools,” DeVos responded. “In fact, all of the proposals set forth in the budget commit to fully funding public schools as we have.”
“If you’re pouring money into vouchers, the money is coming from somewhere,” Lowey said.
Many Republicans, while upset about proposed cuts to career and technical training programs, expressed support for DeVos.
“We are beginning to see the early stages of a much-needed, robust discussion about how we begin the process of getting our federal budget under control,” Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas said.
Democrats questioned DeVos about whether she would allow federal funds to go to private schools that discriminate against particular populations.
Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts brought up Lighthouse Christian Academy, a school in Bloomington, Indiana that receives $665,000 in state vouchers and denies admission to children of LGBT parents.
“Is there a line for you on state flexibility?” Clark asked.
“You are the backstop for students and their right to access quality education. Would you in this case say we are going to overrule and you cannot discriminate, whether it be on sexual orientation, race, or special needs in our voucher programs?” Clark added. “Will that be a guarantee from you to our students?”
DeVos sidestepped the question.
“The bottom line is we believe that parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children’s schooling and education decisions,” DeVos said. “Too many children today are trapped in schools that don’t work for them. We have to do something different than continuing a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach.”
DeVos’s appearance before Congress was her first public seating since a rough confirmation hearing before the Senate back in January.