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Bonamici Presses DeVos for Answers During First Education Committee Appearance

May 22, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC [05/22/18] – Today Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, a leader on the House Education Committee, questioned Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during the Secretary’s first appearance in front of the Committee, 16 months after taking office.

“Strengthening public education is one of the best investments we can make to improve our economy and future,” Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici said after the hearing. “Americans need an Education Secretary who is fighting for all students. During her tenure, DeVos has undermined the civil rights of students and put the interests of for-profit colleges before student loan borrowers. Today, after more than 16 months, the Secretary finally appeared before the Committee on Education and the Workforce to answer questions. I take seriously the Committee’s obligation to provide meaningful oversight and accountability of the Education Department.”

You can watch video of the hearing here.

Bonamici pressed DeVos about her focus on moving public school students into private or religious schools rather than addressing the issues that challenge public schools, especially schools in low-income neighborhoods.

“You submitted a story in your written testimony about Shirley and her daughter. Her daughter was afraid of being bullied in a neighborhood school. So the mother was trying to earn money for her to go to private school. I was looking for the next page in your testimony where you say you went to that school in her neighborhood and spoke with educators and administrators and families. Maybe they need better anti-bullying programs. Maybe their classes are too crowded. Maybe there’s lead in the water. Maybe they need wrap-around services for students in poverty. If your responsibility is to all students, why isn’t that part of your story?”

On the week of the 20th anniversary of the Thurston School Shooting in Springfield, Oregon, Bonamici questioned Secretary DeVos about improving school safety.

“Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the Thurston high school shooting in Oregon, where a 15 year old student killed his parents and then walked into the high school with guns underneath his trench coat. He killed 2 students and wounded 25. That community is still grieving,” said Bonamici. “You said the Commission on School Safety recommendations will be out by the end of the year. It’s only May. Students are telling me today that they walk into a classroom and the first thing they do is look for where they can hide and how they can escape. … On behalf of all the students who are marching for their lives, will you please expedite the work of the commission?”

Bonamici also raised concerns about the Department’s recent guidance to block states from regulating student loan companies. In May, Bonamici and a bipartisan group of lawmakers challenged the Department’s attempts and heeded the call by all 50 governors, a bipartisan coalition of 25 state Attorneys General, and the heads of all 50 state banking agencies to oppose the interpretation.

During today’s hearing, Bonamici asked, “States play an active role in protecting their residents from predatory, unfair, and deceptive practices. Over the last few years, states have recognized a need to take action regarding student loan servicers - requiring them to be licensed and enforcing borrower protections. The Department recently published an interpretation saying that these states are preempted by federal law. This interpretation would severely restrict the ability of states to protect their residents from unfair or deceptive practices.”

Bonamici also pressed Secretary DeVos on supporting well-rounded education programs, which give states and local school districts the flexibility and funding to meet the unique needs of their students. Bonamici has led efforts in the House to boost funding for Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grants under Title IV-A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The SSAE grants support well-rounded education learning opportunities, including expanded access to arts, music, civics, and foreign language courses; violence prevention and trauma intervention programs; Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, and other rigorous and accelerated courses; and STEM courses, which may integrate arts and music to foster innovation and creative thinking.

Bonamici asked, “With the Every Student Succeeds Act, Congress recognized the value of the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant program. … Recently, you stated in the House Appropriations hearing that the program is worth revisiting given the areas of education it supports and flexibility in provides to school districts. I agree with that. Secretary DeVos, one of your key responsibilities as a cabinet secretary is to advise the President. Unfortunately, this program has been zeroed out, not once but twice, in President Trump’s proposed budgets. Will you commit that you will advocate for this program and its funding to the President so he does not again target it for elimination?” 

Bonamici, the Vice Ranking Member of the House Education Committee, is a leader on education policy issues in Congress. In 2015, her legislation to reduce duplicative testing in schools played a key role in building support for the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act to update federal K-12 education policies.