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Our faithful reader Charles asked me a few days ago why I had written nothing about Betsy DeVos’ appearance before Congress. I confess I have a very difficult time watching her testify because I always feel that she is being evasive or duplicitous. She doesn’t say what is on her mind or in her heart. She wants to convince people that she really cares about children, when we know that she really cares about one thing only: School choice. She has taken steps to harm children and college students but she never says flat out what she did and why she did it. Her interview with Leslie Stahl on “60 Minutes” was not atypical. She was primed and ready to dodge questions, not to explain anything candidly. She continues this pattern and I find it painful to watch.
There were five topics that DeVos could not or would not say or explain, writes Strauss.
1) DeVos could not explain the mission of the department’s Office for Civil Rights.
DeVos has rolled back or is in the process of delaying or gutting some Obama-era guidance and regulations that aimed to protect the rights of some minority groups, including LGBTQ students. The Trump administration’s budget proposals have called for funding cuts to the Office for Civil Rights in the Education Department, but Congress has overruled that. DeVos has changed the focus of the office, limiting the complaints it will address and reining in the systemic action favored by the Obama administration.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio) told DeVos that she was concerned about the weak performance of the Office for Civil Rights. Then she asked DeVos whether she knew the mission of that office.
DEVOS: The Office for Civil Rights is committed to protecting the civil rights as determined under the law of this land. And we do so proudly and with great focus each day.
FUDGE: That’s not the mission statement. Do you know what it is?
DEVOS: I have not . . . .
FUDGE: That’s okay.
DEVOS: I have not memorized the mission statement.
FUDGE: That’s okay. Please explain for me what you would believe to be vigorous enforcement of civil rights in the context of schools today.
DEVOS: It would be following the law and enforcing the law as stated . . . .
FUDGE: So how do you do it if you continue to try to dismantle and defund the office? I’m not understanding.
DEVOS: We haven’t done any such thing.
FUDGE: I think I’ve heard enough.
Later, Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands) said, “The mission of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through all the nation.”
2) DeVos did not provide a single detail about any plan she might have to promote inclusivity and access to an appropriate education for students with disabilities. And she wouldn’t commit to pushing Congress to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA, which requires public schools to provide free and appropriate education to all students with disabilities.
3) DeVos refused to directly address questions from Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) about potential conflicts of interest in a pilot student-aid program.
4) A legislator asked DeVos whether she would work with more urgency on her Federal Commission on School Safety to come up with recommendations to make school campuses safer after a rash of mass shootings.
5) Sablan asked her about access to higher education in U.S. territories, and she couldn’t quite answer his question.
I have left out the best parts, meaning the colloquy between DeVos and the members of Congress who asked questions. Her evasions, her ignorance, her indifference, her lack of information were on full display. You can understand why members of Congress find this hearings with DeVos to be frustrating, irritating, and outrageous. She doesn’t know or she isn’t telling what she does know.