Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that schools receiving publicly-funded vouchers should be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ students without risking their funding.
During a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday on the proposed federal school voucher program, DeVos told Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) in a tense exchange that “school choice” and state flexibility are more important than protecting vulnerable students’ right to an equal education.
Clark presented the example of Lighthouse Christian Academy, a private Indiana school that currently receives $665,000 in voucher funds but reserves the right to deny attendance to children from families “living in, condoning sexual immorality; practicing homosexual lifestyle or alternate gender identity; promoting such practices.”
“If Indiana applies for this federal funding, will you stand up that this school be open to all students?” Clark asked.
DeVos, whose wants to add $250 million to the education budget for “school choice” programs including voucher funding, attempted to deflect Clark’s targeted question, thanking her for asking a question DeVos said was “broadly” about school choice. But Clark wasn’t having it.
“Is there a line for you on state flexibility?” Clark asked. “You are the backstop for students and their right to access a quality education.Would you say, in this case, we are going to overrule and you cannot discriminate, whether it be on sexual orientation, race, special needs, in our voucher program? Will that be a guarantee from you for our students?”
In short, no.
“For states that have programs that allow parents to make choices, they set up the rules around that,” DeVos replied.
Clark cut DeVos off and pressed on.
“Do you see any circumstance where the federal Department of Education, under your leadership, would say that a school is not qualified? What if they said, we are not accepting African-American students, but that was OK with the state,” Clark continued, “do you see any situation where you would step in?”
Again DeVos, who was recently booed by students at a historically black university, pivoted back to her sole talking point, avoiding any responsibility for access to education for LGBTQ students, people of color, and students with disabilities.
“I think 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 interjected again.
“This isn’t about parents making choices, it’s about use of federal dollars,” she clarified. “Would you say to Indiana that school cannot discriminate against LGBT students if you want to receive federal dollars, or would you say that the state has flexibility in this situation, yes or no?”
Beginning to sound like a broken record, DeVos again deferred to the states.
“I believe states continue to have flexibility,” she began.
“Let me get this right,” Clark said, “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 our federal dollars’?”
Once again, DeVos fell back on her “school choice” rhetoric. Rather than asking the question asked, she reiterated her belief that parents should decide where their children go to school and criticized what she described as a “top-down” approach to education.
“We believe parents are the best-equipped to make choices for their children’s schooling and education decisions,” DeVos said. “And too many children today are trapped in schools that don’t work for them.”
As the gavel banged to close out Clark’s question period, she expressed her dismay one last time.
“I am shocked that you cannot come up with one example of discrimination that you would stand up for students,” Clark said.
It sound like DeVos didn’t learn much from her meeting with parents of transgender students.
Watch the full exchange below.