Secretary DeVos Imperils Education of Low-Income Students and Communities of Color
Washington, D.C.—In the closest-ever vote for nomination of a cabinet secretary, Betsy DeVos was confirmed yesterday as Secretary of Education, but only after Vice President Mike Pence was called to step in and break a 50-50 tie. Her confirmation on the narrowest of margins speaks to the opposition she faced by an exceptionally broad spectrum of educational leaders and advocates, civil rights leaders, policymakers, teachers, parents, students, and others.
As one of the nation’s oldest anti-poverty organizations, the nonpartisan Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) has deep concerns about Secretary DeVos because of the threats she poses to high-quality education for low-income students at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels—particularly to out-of-school and disconnected youth, along with nontraditional students, such as those who are financially independent, are older, are parenting, and/or are employed while enrolled in postsecondary education.
We are acutely aware of the needs of these students because of our work to promote policies that improve the economic security of low-income families and create pathways to education and work. That’s why we were distressed with her performance during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, which proved she has no experience and policy understanding of disconnected youth and postsecondary issues broadly, and of college affordability and completion for low-income students in particular. For these reasons, we spoke out forcefully in opposition to her nomination.
Now that she has been confirmed, we call on Congress to hold her accountable for the crucial responsibilities she has at the Department of Education. In addition, we believe that Congress should take into account the gaps in her experience and commitment in carefully examining the credentials of subcabinet appointees at the Department of Education to determine whether they merit confirmation.
Our major concerns include:
Secretary DeVos’ apparent inaptitude to run the postsecondary education system imperils the economic stability and growth of individuals and the country; employers who need employees with the skills that drive economic growth; and poor and low-income families who depend on education as a critical tool for attaining economic security. We are alarmed that she lacks any financial management or budgeting background needed to manage the $1.3 trillion outstanding student loan portfolio—a figure more than twice as large as the budget for the entire Department of Defense.
Low-income students will most acutely feel the consequences of her inexperience with the administration of the Pell Grant program, which is the foundation for all other student aid. The program has bipartisan support and enjoys broad consensus for its essential role in making college more affordable for low-income individuals. Secretary DeVos’s testimony in no way demonstrated that she will be a strong advocate for the Pell Grant program and the students it supports.
Also of concern is Secretary DeVos’s clear lack of commitment to accountability for the educational outcomes of our most vulnerable students. During her hearing, she would neither acknowledge the importance of equal accountability for all schools receiving Federal education dollars, nor recognize the critical role of the Department of Education in the enforcement of civil rights protections as required by law. Students of color, low-income students, and youth involved in the foster care, justice, and homeless systems are at elevated risk of dropping out of high school with dire consequences for their economic security—and for our nation’s economy.
More broadly, Secretary DeVos showed no facility in discussing a broad range of topics, from basic education concepts, to previous departmental actions reflected in guidance and regulations, to foundational education law like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The reauthorizations of both the Carl D. Perkins Act and the Higher Education Act (HEA) will almost certainly take place while she is serving. It is too risky to have a person so clearly unknowledgeable about education policy in this critical role, particularly during a time when the details of Perkins and HEA policy are being decided by Congress, not to mention when the new laws are implemented.
Secretary DeVos clearly lacks an understanding of education issues that are especially critical for low-income individuals, and she is simply not qualified for the role. That’s why CLASP is redoubling our efforts to advocate for the needs of those students who have the most to benefit from a strong public education system. The success of generations, along with our country’s economy, depends on it.
# # #
CLASP is a national, nonpartisan, anti-poverty organization advancing policy solutions that work for low-income people. With nearly 50 years of trusted expertise, a deeply knowledgeable staff, and a commitment to practical yet visionary approaches to opportunity for all, CLASP lifts up the voices of poor and low-income children, families, and individuals, equips advocates with strategies that work, and helps public officials put good ideas into practice. The organization’s solutions directly address the barriers that individuals and families face because of race, ethnicity, and immigration status, in addition to low income. For more information, visit www.clasp.org and follow @CLASP_DC.