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Federal

Betsy DeVos Is About to Defend Her Budget. Keep These Three Things in Mind

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 18, 2018 3 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is headed back to the Hill.

On Tuesday morning, DeVos will pitch the Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 budget plan for the Department of Education to the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees federal money for K-12. It’s a safe bet that DeVos’ public appearance before lawmakers will draw a crowd, given the hub-bub over her “60 Minutes” interview a week ago.

So what else can we expect besides the hot glare of the spotlight? Be sure to watch these three elements of the hearing:

1) Cuts Have Come Back

What’s changed between last year’s Trump budget request for education and this year’s? Aside from the total amount desired for the Education Department, not a ton. A lot was made last year about the Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 request to cut over $9 billion from the department, or about 13.5 percent. This year, the Trump team wants to cut 5 percent from DeVos’ department.

Like last year, the budget plan also proposes expanding school choice. This time around, there’s a $1 billion pot pitched for public and private school choice, although the divisions between those two aren’t as clear as they were in the fiscal 2018 budget. Like last year, DeVos also wants to eliminate both Title II, which covers professional development for educators, as well as Title IV, which covers a variety of programs like ed-tech, counseling services, and Advanced Placement course fees. Right now Title II gets about $2 billion, and Title IV gets $400 million.

In addition, both last and this year’s budget blueprints would eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants for after-school—that budget line item gets about $1.1 billion.

2) Lawmakers Respond to DeVos

Keep a close eye and ear on how lawmakers on the House subcommittee talk about programs DeVos wants to eliminate. It may give us hints about news later this week.

Why? The timing of DeVos’ testimony before the committee will be somewhat ironic, given that Congress has yet to approve final appropriations for fiscal 2018. However, Congress might reach a final deal on fiscal 2018 spending later this week. So depending on what folks say, including Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the chairman of the subcommittee, we might get some hints about what will be included in the fiscal 2018 budget that Congress sends to Trump, whenever that is.

Remember also that congressional appropriators haven’t been enthusiastic about Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget plan so far. The House of Representatives approved an appropriations bill last year that cuts the Education Department’s budget, but by significantly less than Trump’s blueprint. And the Senate appropriations bill for DeVos’ department approved by the chamber’s appropriations committee last year actually increased the department’s budget by $29 million. And crucially for DeVos, both bills left out her marquee school choice initiatives, aside from a very small increase for federal charter-school aid. So don’t be surprised if lawmakers express surprise or displeasure on Tuesday that the fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019 budget proposals are substantively pretty similar.

3) DeVos on the Stage

Did we mention the spotlight earlier?

Yeah, about that: The last time DeVos appeared before this committee last May, she and Democratic lawmakers got into tense exchanges about several issues. Perhaps chief among them was her back-and-forth with Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., about whether vouchers backed by federal cash should got to private school that don’t allow LGBTQ students. So you can expect Democrats to aggressively go after DeVos, and not just on the budget. They might, for example, criticize the Trump administration’s support for arming teachers, and its lack of clear support for big new restrictions on firearms.

More generally, the “60 Minutes” interview demonstrated that when DeVos goes before the cameras, many people expect some sort of news or polarizing headline to come out of it.


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