DeVos Goes Before Senators at Wide-Ranging Budget Hearing

Students and ICE, school safety among topics
By Andrew Ujifusa — June 12, 2018 5 min read
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations hearing to review the fiscal year 2019 funding request and budget justification for the U.S. Department of Education on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 5.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print


In a wide-ranging hearing before a Senate subcommittee last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos changed her stance on the role of schools in reporting undocumented students to federal authorities, explained what the school safety commission she heads will and will not focus on, and defended the Trump administration’s budget priorities for the upcoming fiscal year as being focused on students and parents, not systems.

She also sparred with Democrats on the education spending subcommittee about her approach to the department’s office for civil rights, seeking to counter their claims that she was improperly cutting staffing levels by saying that she was committed to conducting its work to protect students in an efficient manner.

Much of DeVos’ recent focus has been on the federal school safety commission she was appointed to lead by President Donald Trump earlier this year. She recently visited a school in Maryland to learn about behavioral-intervention strategies, for example.

“One of the most important things we can do is help others learn about what has been effective,” DeVos told lawmakers.

Role of Firearms

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., quickly zeroed in on the topic and asked if the commission would be looking at the role of firearms in school violence. DeVos responded, “That is not part of the commission’s charge per se.” She stressed that the commission was focused on school safety.

However, when Trump announced the start of the commission in March in the wake of the mass killing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the White House said the commission would examine “age restrictions for certain firearms purchases” among many issues, including “violent entertainment” and media coverage of mass shootings. The commission, made up entirely of Cabinet members, is due to release its findings by the end of this year.

Asked about the discrepancy between the White House and DeVos’ remark to Leahy, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education said: “The secretary and the commission continue to look at all issues the president asked the committee to study and are focused on making recommendations that the agencies, states, and local communities can implement. It’s important to note that the commission cannot create or amend current gun laws—that is the Congress’ job.” (The White House announcement states that the commission’s job is to generate “recommendations” to improve school safety.)

DeVos also shied away from offering an opinion when Leahy asked her whether she believed an 18-year-old high school student should be able to purchase an AR-15 rifle in a matter of minutes, stating only that, “I believe that’s very much a matter for debate.”

The secretary did make her position clear about another controversial issue she raised last month. In May, DeVos told the House education committee that schools could choose whether to report undocumented students to federal authorities, provoking a storm of protest from Democratic lawmakers and immigration advocates.

Under questioning from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., DeVos initially said, “I think a school is a sacrosanct place for students to be able to learn, and they should be protected there. ... I think educators know in their hearts that students should have a safe place to learn.”

After Murphy repeatedly pressed her and wondered aloud why she declined to directly answer the question as to whether educators could call Immigration and Customs Enforcement on undocumented students, DeVos ultimately said, “I don’t think they can.”

Questions on Cuts

DeVos also defended the Trump budget against several criticisms from Democrats. The fiscal 2019 blueprint, released in February, would cut her agency’s budget to $63.2 billion. That would be a $7.7 billion reduction from fiscal 2018 levels signed into law by Trump in March. The spending bill the president signed represented a nearly wholesale rejection of the administration’s fiscal 2018 proposals to cut the department’s budget by more than 13 percent from fiscal 2017 levels.

DeVos got encouragement from Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the subcommittee chairman, who told her that, “We should look at programs that are either inefficient or ineffective and prioritize the programs that work best for students.” However, he indicated that large formula-grant programs would likely remain as they are.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sparred with DeVos over her staff reductions at the office for civil rights and noted that Congress actually increased spending for the office in the fiscal 2018 spending bill Trump signed: “We’re going to take fewer claims and protect fewer students. That really isn’t how OCR is supposed to operate.”

DeVos responded that the office’s work had not deteriorated and that, “We are committed to ensuring that the rights of every student are protected.”

Democrats and DeVos have clashed frequently over civil rights issues. Murray and others have criticized DeVos for rolling back Obama administration guidance on transgender students and for changing how the civil rights office conducts investigations. They’ve also warned her not to repeal Obama-era guidance on racial disparities in discipline, which DeVos is current considering.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., among others, questioned the wisdom of the Trump budget blueprint’s call to eliminate two programs: Title II, which provides $2.1 billion in federal aid for educators’ professional development, and $1.1 billion in after-school funding through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs. Manchin stressed that such funding was useful for helping children affected by opioid addiction, for example, while DeVos stressed that other funding under Title IV, a flexible pot of federal money under the Every Student Succeeds Act, could be used by districts in a variety of ways to support such work.

And Manchin spoke for many Democrats when he rejected DeVos’ pitch that rural states like West Virginia could benefit from new school choice opportunities, stating that, among other things, his state simply doesn’t have internet connectivity in many instances: “We just can’t afford to start another education system.”

“You must understand how fast shootings happen and how chaotic and confusing it is. There’s no way to determine who and where the gunfire is coming from. Say I had a gun. Would I have left my terrified children? Never.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 13, 2018 edition of Education Week as DeVos Goes Before Senators in Wide-Ranging Hearing


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal What Is a School Shooting? Members of Congress Seek a Federal Definition, Reliable Data
A new bill would direct federal departments to track data related to school shootings, a term for which there is no federal definition.
Daniela Altimari, Hartford Courant
4 min read
Police respond to the scene of a shooting at Heritage High School in Newport News, Va., on Saturday Sept. 20, 2021. Newport News police Chief Steve Drew said two students were shot and taken to the hospital and neither injury was thought to be life-threatening. The chief said authorities believe the suspect and victims knew one another but did not provide details.
Police respond to the scene of a shooting at Heritage High School in Newport News, Va., on Saturday Sept. 20, 2021.
John C. Clark/AP Photo
Federal Is the Justice Dept. Silencing Parents or Stepping Up to Protect Educators?
Merrick Garland's move to use the FBI to help protect school officials from violence and harassment has drawn anger and praise.
5 min read
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine Texas's abortion law, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine Texas's abortion law, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Tom Williams/Pool via AP
Federal Don't Use Federal COVID Aid to Undermine School Mask Rules, U.S. Treasury Tells Governor
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey violated the intent of COVID aid programs by using them to discourage school mask mandates, an agency letter says.
2 min read
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Nov. 30, 2020. A program announced by Arizona's Republican governor last month to give private school vouchers to students whose parents object to school mask requirements has seen a surge of applications, with twice as many either completed or started than can be funded with the $10 million in federal coronavirus relief cash he earmarked for the program.
A program announced by Arizona's Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in September earmarks federal money to give private school vouchers to students whose parents object to public school mask requirements.
Ross D. Franklin/AP
Federal Districts Would Have to Show Equity for High-Poverty Schools Under Proposed Biden Rule
The U.S. Department of Education says the move would promote transparency and accountability for schools getting COVID-19 aid.
4 min read
Illustration of a helping hand with dollar bill bridging economy gap during coronavirus pandemic, assisting business people to overcome financial difficulties.
Feodora Chiosea/iStock/Getty Images Plus