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Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump Tour Hurricane-Hit Region

By Alyson Klein — September 05, 2017 3 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos joined President Donald Trump and other cabinet officials in a visit to hurricane-ravaged Texas and Louisiana over the weekend.

Joining the duo on the trip: First Lady Melania Trump; Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, David Shulkin, the secretary of Veterans Affairs; Elaine Duke, the acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, and Brock Long, the administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, better known as FEMA.

The group toured the Hurricane Harvey Relief Center in Houston and met with members of the Texas and Louisiana congressional delegations, according to an education department press release.

“Texas and Louisiana have a long road to recovery ahead, but the resilience of those in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey was evident today,” said DeVos in a statement of her Sept. 2 visit. “The Department of Education will continue to work side-by-side with the people of both states as they begin to piece their lives back together, and get their communities and schools up and running again.”

It doesn’t appear that the group went to any schools, but Trump spoke with some children who had been affected by the storm. And during a stop at the First Church of Pearland, in a Houston suburb, Trump praised DeVos, noting that she had a “full page story” in the Wall Street Journal that day.

The department also highlighted a few steps the secretary and her team have already taken to help schools hit by the storm. The department has given Texas extra time to submit its plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act. (Most states are expected to submit by Sept. 18.) The agency has also given districts hit by the storm more time to get their Promise Neighborhood applications in. (The official deadline is today, Sept. 5.)

The department is also conducting a webinar Sept. 7 for districts in Texas on the ins-and-outs of the McKinney-Vento program for homeless students. The webinar will also direct districts to disaster-related resources available from other agencies. The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Office of Innovation have also reached out to districts, charter, and private schools to see what sorts of resources or flexibility are needed.

The news release, though, doesn’t mention any new money for the school districts impacted by the storm. That funding could be included in a relief package likely to be under consideration in Congress this fall.

How have the feds helped storm-ravaged schools in the past? Back in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina demolished schools through out the city of New Orleans. Congress provided $1.4 billion in aid to help schools and students hit by the storm. The package included $645 million to help nearby states and districts cover the cost of educating nearly 160,000 displaced students, which translated to about $4,000 for the entire school year per student, or less than districts were banking on. The Bush administration also pushed a new voucher program tied to these displaced students, creating political turmoil on Capitol Hill that some districts worried would delay the funding to needy districts and students.

The feds also gave districts in four hurricane-hit states $750 million in “restart” aid, which could be used for everything from paying teachers’ salaries, to replacing textbooks and other equipment damaged by the storm. At the time, districts expressed serious frustration with FEMA, which was widely criticized for its response to the storm.

The Education Department, though, won praise for its Katrina relief efforts, which included a website alerting potential donors to schools and students in need.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump meet people impacted by Hurricane Harvey during a visit to the NRG Center in Houston on Sept. 2.

--Susan Walsh/AP

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