Betsy DeVos answered questions from the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee this morning after defending the Trump administration’s budget, which includes cuts that one senator called “draconian.”
Many senators expressed concern or dismay about the impact of the budget on their states. Several lamented the slashing of 21st Century Community Learning Centers; that work study is being cut in half; that Pell doesn’t keep pace with inflation; and the cuts to financial aid.
Perhaps most disturbing was the education secretary’s lack of response to Sen. Chris Murphy’s questioning. Murphy quoted a New York Times article, which said the K12 Inc. for-profit enterprise was a business the DeVos family had invested in (which also raises questions about her support of virtual learning). However, the company seemed to be squeezing profits out of school systems, not helping kids learn. He asked her pointedly about what specific protections would be in place to protect taxpayers, so that their money wouldn’t simply be transferred from public schools to for-profit enterprises that may or may not actually educate children. After trying to reframe his question, DeVos said nothing.
Murphy grasped the situation immediately, and called it a massive transfer of money from the public to the private sector. He said, “So, there will be no protections for taxpayer dollars.” She did not contradict him.
Putting Higher Ed Out of Reach
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois raised topics of great concern to readers of BLACK ENTERPRISE; “crippling and debilitating student debt” as well as the “lack of policing of for-profit colleges.” Because the budget increases the interest burden, it seems that the administration’s intent is to make it more difficult to pay for college.
DeVos said that the budget’s goal was to help students to know their full menu of educational options, and stressed career and technical education (CTE)—a viable choice that isn’t publicized enough. But, even students pursuing CTE should not have to pay higher interest rates on their student loans and the budget cuts’ support for CTE as well.
DeVos stated that there is overlap within the Department of Labor, and that CTE needed to be looked at holistically. She described a CTE program that partners with community colleges to meet the needs of businesses in their area, apparently as an example of how CTE can work with fewer federal resources. Although, what those partnerships will actually look like after the cuts have been implemented is anyone’s guess.
Sen. Shaheen of New Hampshire asked the secretary what she could say to students like Raymond, a boy from her state that had benefited from a 21st Century Community Learning Center’s after-school program. Sadly, DeVos didn’t seem to appreciate the importance of before-school, after-school, and summer learning opportunities, especially for needy children. Later on, she said that such programs weren’t part of the core school day, implying that they were not as important.
No African Americans
It was disappointing to see that not one African American was present to ask the secretary a question—apparently, none serve on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee.
However, that does not mean that African Americans weren’t part of the conversation. Sen. James Lankford mentioned that an African American had told him that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) was “out of control”; that OCR had been instructed to look for problems at schools and not leave until they found one—which seemed bizarre. Likewise, Senator Shelley Moore Capito noted that an HBCU in West Virginia, which had hosted an Upward Bound program for more than 50 years, had been rejected because of a minor error on its worksheet—not even on its application.
In defending the budget, DeVos repeatedly said that it seeks to shift focus toward states, local communities, and parents, and that it represented an opportunity for states to have greater flexibility and to be creative.
In response to this, a senator replied, “You are imagining revenue and flexibility that does not exist at the local level. You are cutting their flexibility by reducing their resources. Now they will be basking in greater flexibility.”