Education Week - June 13, 2018 - 14
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
DeVos Goes Before Senators
In Wide-Ranging Hearing
Students and ICE, school safety among topics
By Andrew Ujifusa
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,
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 Demo-
cratic lawmakers and immigration advocates.
Under questioning from Sen. Chris Murphy, DConn., 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
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."
14 | EDUCATION WEEK | June 13, 2018 | www.edweek.org
Emotion Meets Policy
At School-Safety Panel
By Alyson Klein
Don't arm teachers. Monitor students on social media. Give schools
more mental-health resources. Hire more school resource officers-
or not. Keep Obama-era guidance aimed at curbing discipline disparities between minority students and their peers. Ban assault
Those and dozens of other proposals for preventing the next
school shooting poured out last week at a daylong listening session held here by the Federal School Safety Commission, set up
by President Donald Trump after February's massacre at Marjory
Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Much of the advice at the June 6 event did not appear to be
in line with the policy preferences of the administration. Trump
has called for arming certain teachers and even directing federal
resources to give bonuses to school staff members willing to carry
concealed weapons. His Department of Education is considering
scrapping Obama-era guidance that pushed school officials to
ensure that their discipline policies don't have a disparate impact on students from specified racial and ethnic groups. Speaker
after speaker urged against both moves.
It's unclear what the panel, which met at the Education Department, will make of the recommendations. The commission's
chairwoman, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, wasn't in
the room to take in the suggestions. She was on a trip to Switzerland, part of an on-site examination of career and technical
education and school choice in three European countries.
None of the other cabinet secretaries who are part of the commission, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and
Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security
Kirstjen Nielsen, attended either. But each sent a representative.
Advocates have criticized the panel for not including educator
voices and for moving too slowly-and with too little transparency.
Just a day before the listening session, DeVos told a Senate
subcommittee that the commission would not be exploring the
role of guns in school violence. That's despite a prior White House
statement that the commission's work was to include examining
age restrictions on particular firearms purchases.
Deputy Education Secretary Mick Zais, who presided over the
listening session, clarified that the panel will not be looking at
"confiscating" existing weapons. He said the commission will explore "narrow" issues related to gun safety, including age limits
for purchasing some firearms, and issues related to gun ownership and mental health.