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DeVos Won't Commit To Banning LGBTQ Discrimination At Private Schools

The education secretary faced questions about federal funding for private and charter schools while testifying before a Senate subcommittee Tuesday.
Posted at 9:10 PM, Jun 06, 2017

"Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law," Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said.

"And I just said federal law is foggy, so in your understanding of federal law, will such discrimination be allowed?" Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley asked.

"On areas where the law is unsettled, this department is not going to be issuing decrees. That is a matter for Congress and the courts to settle," DeVos said.

"So please just answer the question," Merkley said.

But it seems Merkley didn't get the answer he was looking for. At issue: whether discrimination on the basis of a person's LGBTQ identity or religion will be allowed at federally funded private and charter schools.

DeVos was testifying in support of her department's proposed 2018 budget before a Senate appropriations subcommittee Tuesday.

Both Democratic and Republican members took issue with the $9 billion — or 13 percent — spending cut the budget proposes.

The subcommittee's chairman, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, said in his opening statement: "Such a significant cut to the Department’s budget is likely untenable. In reviewing this budget request it is difficult to know whether you made cuts because you believe the programs are truly ineffective or because your budget number required these reductions just to reach the bottom line."

And some Democratic members weren't happy that school choice programs were getting significant raises — $167 million for charter school grants and $250 million for private school scholarships. Those account for just some of the proposed budget's $1.4 billion allocation for the expansion of school choice. 

Merkley wanted to make sure that money wouldn't go to schools that might discriminate against students based on their faith or LGBTQ identity.

His exchange Tuesday with DeVos got even more tense and lasted another five and a half minutes.

"Discrimination in any form is wrong. I don't support discrimination in any form," DeVos said.

"Does your program ban such discrimination? Yes or no?" Merkley asked.

"What program are you talking about?" DeVos replied.

"Your charter school and your private school grant program," Merkley said.

"As I said before, and let me say it again, schools that receive federal funds need to follow federal law, period," DeVos responded.  

"Saying the same thing ten times when you're not answering the question does not help," Merkley shot back.

Last month, DeVos testified before a House appropriations subcommittee and faced a similar line of questioning. 

"There's 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're going to use our federal dollars'?" Democratic Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts asked.

"The bottom line is we believe that parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children's school and education decisions," DeVos replied.