Betsy DeVos | Gage Skidmore via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
WASHINGTON — House Democrats lashed out at U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday as they assailed the President Trump administration’s plans to cut programs for disabled students.
DeVos appeared before a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee, her first testimony in the chamber since Democrats took control earlier this year. A Michigan native and member of the billionaire family that gives to a host of Republicans and conservative causes, DeVos became a big issue in the 2018 election.
Democratic lawmakers on the panel grilled her on the White House budget proposal for fiscal year 2020, which aims to cut the Education Department’s funding by $8.5 billion — or about 12 percent — from what it received in fiscal 2019.
“How can you support this budget? I mean that genuinely. You’re the secretary of the Department of Education,” said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair of the subcommittee that oversees the Education Department’s budget. She asked DeVos how she could boast of a spending plan that takes money away from teachers and students.
“I believe that this budget is cruel and I believe that it is reckless,” DeLauro said.
Democrats spent a considerable amount of time hammering DeVos on proposed funding cuts to programs that benefit disabled students, including the Special Olympics.
“You have zeroed out Special Olympics once again,” said U.S.Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). “I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children in your budget. You zeroed that out. It’s appalling.”
The Trump administration has also proposed slashing Special Olympics funds in past budget requests.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) listed other proposed spending reductions in DeVos’ budget plan, including cutting funds for special education grants to states, for Gallaudet University — a private university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing — and for a federal program that prints books for blind students.
“What is it that we have a problem with with children who are in special education?” Pocan asked DeVos. “Why are we cutting all of these programs over and over within this budget?”
Pocan pressed DeVos on how many children would be impacted by the cuts to the Special Olympics program. She said she didn’t know how many kids, but added, “We had to make some difficult decisions with this budget.”
“It’s 272,000 kids,” Pocan told her.
DeVos replied, “Let me just say that I think Special Olympics is an awesome organization, one that is well supported by the philanthropic sector, as well.”
Democrats grilled DeVos on a host of other issues, too, ranging from her proposal to increase charter school funding to her policies weakening campus sexual assault rules and her approach to civil rights enforcement.
Republicans on the panel lauded DeVos while criticizing their Democratic colleagues’ treatment of the education secretary.
U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Midland), a longtime DeVos ally, thanked her for her patience during the hearing.
Washington Republican U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler told the education secretary, “I appreciate your willingness to do the job even though you’re being undermined as you sit there.”
Congress has brushed aside many of the Trump administration’s recommendations on domestic spending in recent years, which DeVos noted in her testimony.
“When it comes to domestic discretionary education spending over the past couple of years, Congress has ignored the administration’s recommendations,” she said. “In fact, Congress has increased the Department’s discretionary spending by billions of dollars.”
She added, “We are not doing our children any favors when we borrow from their future in order to invest in systems and policies that are not yielding better results.”
Still, Congress is expected to ignore many of those proposed cuts yet again as it crafts a budget for the next fiscal year.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.