Congress rejects Betsy DeVos’ education agenda

Congress is not moving forward with Betsy DeVos' education agenda in its spending bill.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill June 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill June 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Congress’ spending bill demolishes many of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ budget priorities and proposals. The bill rejects many of her proposed cuts for the department, and instead allocates more money to the Office for Civil Rights, preserves funding for before and after school programs, and keeps in place a grant program that helps provide school-based mental health services. 

House and Senate leaders released this bill, which would fund the government through September, on Wednesday evening. Devos wanted to use $1 billion on her school choice priorities, such as promoting private school vouchers, magnet schools, and charter schools, but the omnibus bill excluded funding for her school choice program. Congress would also boost department funding by $3.9 billion.

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DeVos wanted to cut the department’s Office for Civil Rights funding by $1.7 million, but the spending bill increased its budget by $8.5 million. DeVos’ efforts to cut spending for the office comes at a time when racial harassment complaints at schools are rising. The department has dismissed complaints from transgender students, rolled back guidance on campus sexual assault that sexual assault survivors support, and narrowed the scope of the office’s investigations.

Under DeVos’ proposal, the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant — a program that helps low-income college students finance the costs of college — would also have been eliminated, but members of Congress increased the program by $107 million in the spending bill instead. Private, non-profit institutions colleges and universities received a third of that funding, according to analysis by the Brookings Institution.

In a letter to Congress, the National Education Association urged members of Congress to vote for the spending bill. “This bill, while not perfect, takes the first step in reinvesting in education funding and prioritizes programs which help students most in need … The FY18 omnibus appropriations bill takes long overdue steps to increase education funding after years of austerity,” wrote Marc Egan, director of government relations at the National Education Association.

DeVos’ budget also would have eliminated the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants program, which helps promote a well-rounded education and can be used for trauma-informed classroom management, anti-bullying programs, mental health services, and school violence prevention programs. Under this spending bill, the program, which was funded at $400 million last fiscal year, would be funded at $1.1 billion.

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According to the American School Counselor Association, the average ratio of school counselors to students is one for every 482 students. Trauma-informed classroom management is becoming an important tool in addressing the school-to-prison pipeline, where students of color are disproportionately pushed into the criminal justice system through harsh school discipline and other factors. Twenty-five percent of young people in the United States have experienced a traumatic event. Students who have experienced trauma often struggle to manage stress and with trauma-informed approaches, school staff can de-escalate tense situations.

A teacher training program, Supporting Effective Instruction, a state grants program, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, a program supporting before and after school programs, which DeVos proposed to eliminate last year, also would have been eliminated under her budget but kept their funding under the omnibus bill. The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program helps 1.6 million kids. Robert Mahaffey, executive director of the Rural School and Community Trust told ThinkProgress when DeVos proposed to eliminate the program last year, “That would decimate after school programs.”

The department’s proposal argued that the teacher training program was “largely duplicative” and that the grant program that can be used for mental health services and school violence prevention “generally can be supported with funds from other sources” according to The 74 Million.