Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos tried to pass a new education spending bill through Congress on Wednesday, only to see it totally flop. As each of her transparent attempts to privatize the US education system – supposedly in hopes of removing the federal government from its inner workings – fell flat, it’s fair to ask how long DeVos can maintain her position without the U.S. educational system making any kind of stride forward. It’s hard to understate the brutal showing in Congress, which saw lawmakers not only reject the majority of DeVos’s ideas, but actually do the opposite of what she requested.
- In an unprecedented move, the secretary of a major department within the U.S. federal government requested a cut to their own department. DeVos wanted $3.6 billion, or 5 percent, shaved off of the DOE’s annual budget. Congress took that request, and in turn, increased DOE funding by $3.9 billion.
- Despite the budget cut DeVos requested, she hoped Congress would sink an extra $1 billion into policies that are friendly towards school choice as well as private school vouchers. In increasing DOE funding, Congress noted that the money could not be used on DeVos’ school choice initiatives. This shouldn’t be a surprise: even her confirmation as Secretary of Education was stalled by investigations into her potential conflicts of interest. Before entering government, DeVos used her incredible wealth to support charter schools.
- While DeVos loves the idea of children being able to go well-funded charter and private schools while gutting public school funding, she doesn’t seem as supportive of underprivileged kids increasing their chances at a college education. DeVos proposed to defund a government grant program that helps low-income kids afford post-secondary education. Instead, Congress approved $40 million for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant, which gives students without access to cheap in-state-tuition a chance to afford other college options.
- Much to the chagrin of Democrats and activists all over the country, DeVos also recommend major cuts to the Office of Civil Rights and after-school programming for disadvantaged youth. DeVos said that the office had become more efficient and thus needed the money less. Congress rejected that and increased funding for not just the Office of Civil Rights, but for after-school programming as well. It’s telling that DeVos tried to cut funding to the Office of Civil Rights, while also electing not to protect trans students from bathroom discrimination.
- The most stunning of DeVos’ requests was the proposed elimination of major grant programs that fund student mental health services like counseling and violence prevention. In response, Congress approved $700 million for schools to use on counseling services; $22 million will go to reducing school violence and $25 million to mental-health services. DeVos has supported removing the gun-free zones near public schools in the past, so this is a major opposition to her agenda.
The protests that have occurred in the wake of the Parkland shooting have facilitated a visceral scrutiny of congressional inaction. That DeVos is proposing budget cuts to the type of counseling that could prevent another Parkland-style shooting, on top of all these other requests, is just politically illiterate. Especially in a mid-term election year. This latest loss comes just a bit after DeVos’ disastrous 60 Minutes interview, wherein she couldn’t answer questions that should be simple for someone in her position. It’s safe for parents to wonder how this latest flop should affect DeVos’s job security.
Congress also seems to feel that way, according to Senator Patty Murray: “After more than a year on the job, I would have hoped Secretary DeVos would have learned by now that her extreme ideas to privatize our nation’s public schools and dismantle the Department of Education do not have support among parents or in Congress, but unfortunately that does not seem to be the case.”