Congress blocks DeVos agenda in spending bill

Some significant proposals championed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and President Donald Trump were rejected in ...

Posted: Mar 23, 2018 6:47 AM
Updated: Mar 23, 2018 6:47 AM

Some significant proposals championed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and President Donald Trump were rejected in the $1.3 trillion spending bill that's making its way through Congress.

DeVos and Trump proposed a budget that would have cut the Education Department's budget by $3.6 billion and funneled more than $1 billion toward private school vouchers and other school choice plans.

But lawmakers rejected a number of those proposals, including slashing funding for the department's Office for Civil Rights, halving federal work study programs and spending $250 million on a private school choice program.

During a congressional hearing earlier this week, DeVos defended the roughly 5% the White House sought to cut from the Education Department's funding, saying it was aligned with the goal of reducing federal involvement in education.

"When this department was created, it was charged with prohibiting federal control of education," DeVos said. "Accordingly, President Trump is committed to reducing the federal footprint in education, and that is reflected in the budget."

Funding for charter schools did increase under the bill, up $58 million to a total of $400 million.

The spending bill also includes a boost for after-school programs and adds $610 million to Head Start. DeVos and Trump had proposed eliminating the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant, which serves needy students, but the spending bill adds an additional $107 million to the program.

"After almost a decade of virtually stagnant federal funding for education, Congress has produced a Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations package that provides real increases for education," Sheryl Cohen, the executive director of the nonprofit Committee for Education Funding, said in a statement, noting that this bill "is the first time in many years that Congress is addressing the need to support education."

The spending bill would raise the maximum Pell Grant award to low-income students by $175 to $6,095; DeVos had proposed freezing the maximum at $5,920. She had also proposed cutting federal work-study programs in half, but the spending bill would add $140 million, for a total of $1.1 billion.

Her budget plan also proposed cuts to the Office for Civil Rights, DeVos said, because the department had become more efficient at investigating and clearing complaints. The move alarmed Democrats and civil rights groups. The spending bill provides an additional $8.5 million for the office, for a total of $117 million.

DeVos' budget sought to eliminate some grant programs that support student mental health services, a proposal she was grilled by Democrats on Capitol Hill for earlier this week in the wake of the deadly school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida.

The omnibus includes a $700 million increase in funding, for a total of $1.1 billion, for a grant program that schools can use for counselors or other school-based mental health services, and an additional $22 million to reduce school violence.

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