U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a gay Democrat from Wisconsin, grilled Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Tuesday on whether schools should be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ students and couldn’t get a direct answer.
DeVos was testifying before a House subcommittee on education appropriations, seeking to defend a proposed budget that includes deep cuts to programs that help students with disabilities but would raise the department’s executive salaries and increase funding for charter schools.
Pocan noted that to earlier questioners, DeVos had mentioned that schools shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of race, religion, and national origin, but she never mentioned sexual orientation or gender identity. “Do you think it’s all right for a school to discriminate based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity?”
“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,” DeVos replied. Pocan remarked that that isn’t a yes or no answer, and DeVos reiterated, “We follow the law as defined.”
However, there is no federal law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity -- that’s why the Equality Act has been introduced. When Barack Obama was president, the Department of Education interpreted existing law on sex discrimination to include those characteristics, but Donald Trump’s administration has abandoned that view. DeVos has given similarly evasive answers before, but also has said outright that her department won’t investigate claims of anti-transgender discrimination.
Pocan also mentioned that the department does fund some charter schools that discriminate (charter schools are publicly funded but are under fewer regulations than traditional public schools) and that a recent report from a public education group said much taxpayer money has been wasted on charter schools.
DeVos contended there should be more charter schools, and she said there were “difficult decisions” involved in proposed cuts to the Special Olympics and programs for blind and deaf students. Pocan asked how she could justify those cuts as well as salary increases, but again, he couldn’t get a direct answer.
The budget as proposed has little chance of passage, according to The Detroit Free Press. “Even with the Republicans in the majority in the U.S. House the last two years, most of DeVos’ strongest proposals for cuts or spending were turned back,” the paper notes. “Now with Democrats in the majority, they are far less likely to gain traction.”
.@BetsyDeVosED is making serious cuts to special education programs Americans rely on like the Special Olympics, special education grants to states, the National Technical Institute for the Blind, & Gallaudet University.
WATCH HERE as I couldn't get a straight answer as to why pic.twitter.com/ZvEJCTNR4T
— Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) March 26, 2019