In heated hearing, DeVos doesn’t rule out federal funds for private schools that discriminate

Posted at 4:45 PM, May 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-24 16:45:26-04

(CNN) — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos refused to say Wednesday whether she would deny federal funds to private schools that discriminate against admitting students based on sexuality, race or even special needs.

DeVos has made expanding school choice the centerpiece of the Trump administration’s education policy, and recently called opponents of school choice “flat Earthers” who have “chilled creativity” and held American students back.

During a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark brought up a school in Indiana — Lighthouse Christian Academy — that receives more than $600,000 in state voucher funds and explicitly denies access to students with LGBT parents in its literature.

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, released on Monday, proposes $250 million for vouchers that would help students get into similar private and religious schools.

At the hearing, Clark asked DeVos whether if Indiana applied for that federal money DeVos would “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 responded, “For states who have programs that allow for parents to make choices, they set up the rules around that.”

“So that’s a no,” Clark followed up.

Clark narrowed down further, and asked DeVos, “What if (a school) said we are not accepting African-American students, but that was OK with the state… Do you see any situation where you would step in?”

DeVos answered that the Department of Education’s “Office of Civil Rights, and our Title IX protections, are broadly applicable across the board.”

With her five minutes of questioning ticking down, Clark clarified, “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’re going to use federal dollars. … Is that your testimony?”

DeVos began her response by referring to the real case of Lighthouse Christian Academy as a “hypothetical,” before being corrected and adding that, “the bottom line is that we believe that parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children’s school and education decisions, and too many children today are trapped in schools that don’t work for them. We have to do something different.”

“I am shocked that you cannot come up with one example of discrimination that you would stand up for students,” Clark finished.