In testimony to Congress on Wednesday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos refused to say whether the department will withhold funding from private schools that discriminate against students, The New York Times reports.
DeVos testified in front of a House Appropriations subcommittee on the Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal, staunchly defending the $1.4 billion school choice agenda within the plan.
At one point, Rep. Katherine M. Clark, a Democrat from Massachusetts, brought up an example of and Indiana school – Lighthouse Christian Academy – that receives more thank $600,000 in state vouchers for students to attend and can deny admission to families “where there is homosexual or bisexual activity” or that practice “alternate gender identity.”
A tense exchange began between Clark and DeVos:
Clark: “Would you in this case say, ‘we are going to overrule, and you cannot discriminate whether it be on sexual orientation, race, special needs in our voucher programs?’ Will that be a guarantee from you for our students?”
DeVos: “For states that have programs that allow for parents to make choices, they set up the rules around that.”
Clark: “Do you see any circumstance where the federal Department of Education under your leadership would say that a school was not qualified? What if they said, ‘we are not accepting African American students,’ but that was OK within the state? Do you see any situation where you would step in?”
DeVos: “Well, again, the Office of Civil Rights and our Title IX protections are broadly applicable across the board, but when it comes to parents making choices on behalf of their students …”
Clark: “This isn’t about parents making choices, this is about the use of federal dollars. Is there any situation? Would you say to Indiana, ‘that school cannot discriminate against LGBT students if you want to receive federal dollars?'”
DeVos: “I believe states should continue to have flexibility in putting together programs …”
Clark: “So if I understand your testimony – I want to make sure I get this right – there is no situation of discrimination or exclusion that, if a state approved it for its voucher program, that you would step in and say, ‘that’s not how we are going to use our federal dollars?'”
DeVos: “I go back to the bottom line – we believe parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children’s schooling and education decisions, and too many children are trapped in schools that don’t work for them …”
Clark: “I am shocked that you cannot come up with one example of discrimination that you would stand up for students.”
You can watch the full exchange here: