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Senators from both parties hammer DeVos on education budget

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Appropriations Commi Win McNamee/Getty Images

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 6 in Washington, D.C.

Republicans joined Democrats on June 6 in a tough Senate grilling of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about the devastating impact of President Trump’s proposal to slash $9.2 billion from the 2018 education budget.

“This is a difficult budget to defend,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, in his opening remarks as chair of the education subcommittee hearing where DeVos appeared.

Sen. Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, listed the people in his family who were educators, adding that “there are legitimate federal programs for training teachers.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, told DeVos, “The best schools in Miami-Dade are public schools.”

The Trump-DeVos budget makes deep cuts to after-school programs, teacher training, career and technical education and programs that make college more affordable while shifting taxpayer dollars to charter schools. New York State stands to lose $433 million.

Congress must pass its spending bills by Oct. 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state, reminded DeVos that she had serious concerns about her “extreme ideological commitment to privatization of our public schools, your extensive financial conflicts of interest and lack of understanding of the role of the federal government in protecting the civil rights of students.”

DeVos continued to defend the budget, reiterating previous statements about giving states and local communities “the flexibility” to use resources as they choose. Several senators, however, pointed out that with state budgets tight, it was wishful thinking.

“You’re imagining revenues not in evidence and you’re imagining flexibility that does not exist at the local level,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat. “You reduce flexibility by reducing the funding they have.”

At one point Sen. Christopher Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, asked DeVos if her department will evaluate state plans for struggling schools to ensure they provide “meaningful supports.” She evaded the question, saying it would be up to the states and local communities to determine what support they are going to offer these schools.

Sen. Murphy pressed her on whether for-profit charter school operators would have their salaries capped “to ensure tax dollars don’t end up enriching the pockets of folks that own charter companies.” DeVos once again sidestepped the question.

The Trump administration wants to invest in an unprecedented expansion of private-school vouchers and charter schools, prompting critics to worry that certain private or parochial schools might expel LGBT students or refuse to admit students with disabilities.

When DeVos first testified about the budget at a House hearing on May 24, she refused to rule out the possibility that private schools that discriminate would still be able to get federal funds for vouchers.

At the Senate hearing, Democrats continued to press her on the issue, particularly with respect to LGBT students. Once again, she refused to give a clear “no” answer. This time, she repeated the same canned statement 14 times: “Any schools receiving federal funds have to follow federal laws.”

When Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon pointed out that federal law is “somewhat foggy” on LGBT student protections, DeVos simply repeated that schools must follow federal laws.

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