Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appeared before the House education committee on Tuesday to discuss the policies and priorities of the department she leads, but there were some things she just wouldn’t — or couldn’t — say.
DeVos has been running the department for a little more than a year, and the controversy that marked the start of her tenure — her Senate confirmation was secured only after Mike Pence became the first vice president in history to break a tie for a Cabinet nominee — has not dissipated.
There’s more than one reason for this: Critics see her lack of experience with public education as a problem. They also point to her attitude about government — she once said “government sucks” — and about her avid support for programs that support privatizing public education.
She was more prepared for Tuesday’s oversight hearing than she was for her somewhat disastrous confirmation hearing in January 2017 — when she revealed ignorance on basic education issues. But there were still basic matters she declined to directly address.
DeVos has rolled back or is in the process of delaying or gutting some Obama-era guidance and regulations that aimed to protect the rights of some minority groups, including LGBTQ students. The Trump administration’s budget proposals have called for funding cuts to the Office for Civil Rights in the Education Department, but Congress has overruled that. DeVos has changed the focus of the office, limiting the complaints it will address and reining in the systemic action favored by the Obama administration.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio) told DeVos she was concerned about the weak performance of the Office for Civil Rights. Then, she asked DeVos if she knew the mission of that office.
DEVOS: The Office for Civil Rights is committed to protecting the civil rights as determined under the law of this land. And we do so proudly and with great focus each day.
FUDGE: That’s not the mission statement. Do you know what it is?
DEVOS: I have not . . .
FUDGE: That’s okay.
DEVOS: I have not memorized the mission statement.
During her 2017 confirmation hearing, DeVos got in trouble when she said that states should have the right to decide whether to enforce IDEA. States don’t have that right because federal law mandates they enforce it. Later, she said she “may have confused it” when told IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) is a federal civil rights law.
A legislator asked DeVos if she would work with more urgency on her Federal Commission on School Safety to come up with recommendations to make school campuses safer after a rash of mass shootings.
In prepared testimony that she delivered to the committee before the hearing, DeVos said:
“Our commitment to every student’s success is one we must renew every day, but first we must ensure our children are safe at school. When evil visited Parkland, Florida, it shocked us. It angers us. And it pains us. We resolved to work so no such tragedy occurs again.
“This Administration is committed to swift action to keep our nation’s students and teachers safe at school. I’m pleased that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary [of Health and Human Services] Alex Azar and Secretary [of Homeland Security] Kirstjen Nielsen join me in this effort. Our work begins with the premise that the primary responsibility for the physical security of schools rests with states and local communities. That’s why the Federal Commission on School Safety is seeking input from local communities, students, parents, teachers, school safety personnel, administrators, law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, school counselors — anyone who is focused on identifying and elevating solutions.”
But after promising swift action in that testimony, she wouldn’t commit to pushing the work of the commission faster than originally planned. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon) noted that Monday was the 21st anniversary of a high school shooting by a 15-year-old in her state and said “that community is still grieving.”
Read the full story at The Washington Post