The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

DeVos, testifying before Congress, refuses to say whether schools should be allowed to discriminate on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) on March 26 questioned Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about discrimination in schools. (Video: C-SPAN)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was asked repeatedly Tuesday by a member of Congress whether she believes schools should be allowed to discriminate against students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. She did not directly answer.

DeVos was appearing before a House education appropriations subcommittee to defend the Trump administration’s 2020 budget request for the Education Department. This exchange occurred between DeVos and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who had raised the issue of charter schools with the secretary.

Pocan was discussing a new report by a public education advocacy group about waste in the U.S. Charter Schools Program.

Here’s the back-and-forth:

POCAN: Do you think it’s all right for a school to discriminate based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity?

DeVOS: We have laws that cover discriminatory efforts, and our Office for Civil Rights has continued to be very diligent in investigating any allegation of discrimination and will continue to do so.

POCAN: So is that a yes or is that a no? I’m trying to get a yes or no, I guess, on that.

DeVOS: We follow the law as defined. …

POCAN (interrupts her): So personally, you don’t have an opinion on it? … Because you are giving money to some charter schools that do discriminate. …

He went on to ask what the department was doing to recoup the estimated $1 billion the advocacy group Network for Public Education says in a report was wasted on charter schools that never opened or were closed because of mismanagement, low enrollment, fraud and other reasons.

She did not directly answer, instead saying the nation needs more charter schools.

It is not the first time DeVos has appeared before Congress and refused to say whether schools should be allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation. At a May 2017 hearing before a House subcommittee about the Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal, she was asked whether private schools that accept public funds should be able to discriminate against some students. She said it was up to the states.