Education Secretary Betsy DeVos faced sharp criticism Tuesday over her proposed budget, which seeks to eliminate money that schools use to support student mental health — a move that has come under scrutiny following the Florida school shooting.
DeVos went before a House Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday, not long after a student opened fire at Great Mills High School in Maryland, about 70 miles south of the U.S. Capitol. Two students were injured, and a student gunman was killed by a gunshot. It marked the fourth fatal shooting in a U.S. high school this year and comes five weeks after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla. For some, Tuesday’s incident underscored the urgency of addressing gun violence in U.S. schools.
“We’re sort of moving beyond platitudes at this point. Students’ lives are on the line,” Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) said at the hearing.
“Have you rethought your elimination of the student support and enrichment grants that specifically go to violence in our schools and help students deal with that?” Clark asked.
“Our current scenario suggests that we should revisit this again,” DeVos said.
Members of Congress signaled they would probably reject many of the proposed cuts in DeVos’s budget, as they did last year.
Her budget, released last month, proposed cutting $3.6 billion from the Education Department. It proposes slashing or eliminating programs that support teacher training, after-school activities and aid for needy students.
“I am concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said.
The secretary defended her budget, saying “it sharpens and hones the purpose of our mission: serving students by meeting their needs.
“President Trump is committed to reducing the federal footprint in education, and that is reflected in this budget,” DeVos said.
DeVos also faced criticism over her proposal to cut $1 million from the department’s Office for Civil Rights. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) pressed DeVos on why her department was eliminating money for programs that benefit students of color.
DeVos also faced criticism about the potential elimination of Obama-era guidance that aimed to ensure black and Latino students were not punished more harshly than their white peers.
“For me, it’s a slap in the face,” Lee said of DeVos’s budget proposal. She asked the secretary about the possibility that the Obama-era discipline guidance could be eliminated.
“There is no place for discrimination,” DeVos said.
“You’re saying that, but your policies and budget show differently,” Lee said.
Critics of the guidance say it has hamstrung educators. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) said the guidance represents federal overreach and said teachers have complained to him that they are unable to appropriately discipline students.