For the third time since she was confirmed as education secretary, Betsy DeVos spoke with a Michigan media outlet to discuss her confirmation process and her priorities. And she made it clear she’s looking for ways to reduce the size and scope of the U.S. Department of Education.
In a Tuesday interview on the Michael Patrick Shiels radio program, DeVos said the confirmation was an “interesting and protracted” process, and that she was glad to get started as secretary. Asked by Shiels about the education department’s responsibilities, DeVos noted that it was only her fourth day on the job at the department. Then she said:
I can’t tell you today what is being done that’s unnecessary. But I can guarantee that there are things that the department has been doing that are probably not necessary or important for a federal agency to do. We’ll be looking at that. We’ll be examining and auditing and reviewing all of the programs of the department and really figuring out what is the core mission, and how can the federal department of education really support and enhance the role of the departments in the states. Because really, when it comes down to it, education and the provision of education is really a state and local responsibility to a large extent.
You can listen to the full interview with Shiels here, or listen in the player below.
DeVos did not specify which programs or policy areas at the department where she might explore or be potentially interested in cuts. Right now, the department has an approximately $68 billion annual budget, and just under a third of that is taken up by discretionary Pell Grants for higher education.
Lawmakers and the Obama administration already cut a number of K-12 programs when they passed the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. That means there are fewer small programs for DeVos to target than there were just a few years ago.
Civil rights advocates are worried that DeVos won’t vehemently enforce Title IX and other protections for students. Funding for the department’s office for civil rights—which now stands at $107 million, a fraction of overall spending at the agency—could be a key indicator to watch as DeVos provides input on the budget she wants at the department.
As a school choice advocate who’s lobbied states to expand vouchers and tax-credit scholarships, and as a long-time major donor to Republican Party candidates and causes, it’s not surprising that DeVos would highlight the power of states and districts. Her supporters say she’s knowledgeable and an experienced advocate who will focus on creating more educational opportunities for students. Critics, however, say that she defers to state and local authority too quickly and have questioned her commitment to using federal oversight to ensure robust accountability.
DeVos also told Shiels that the biggest goal for education should be “continuing to stoke and enhance a child’s creative and curious nature.”
“They are really entranced with education and learning more when that curiosity continues to be fed and continues to be engaged,” DeVos said.
Photo: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addresses Education Department staff, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, at the Education Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)