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Bonamici Challenges DeVos on Student Rights, For-Profit Colleges

April 10, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC [04/10/19] Today Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Chair of the Education and Labor Committee’s Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee, pressed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for answers about education priorities during the Secretary’s appearance in the Committee.


Bonamici raised concerns about funding for student support grants, oversight of for-profit colleges, and the rights of transgender students. Video of Bonamici questioning DeVos at the hearing can be found here.


“I’m troubled by Sec. DeVos’ answers to my questions during today’s hearing,” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “The Department of Education has a responsibility to protect all students, but she acknowledged that she moved forward with a plan to rollback protections for transgender students despite knowing that it would put them at risk. She also failed to provide satisfactory responses to my questions about her harmful budget proposal and lax implementation of important education policies. I will continue to provide needed oversight.”


Prior to the hearing, DeVos told Bonamici that funding for Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grants under Title IV-A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is spread too thin to be effective. The grants give states and local school districts the flexibility and funding to meet the unique needs of their students.


“A budget is a statement of priorities and values,” Bonamici said. “As someone who worked hard on ESSA, I am deeply disappointed that the President’s Budget zeroed out funding for Title IV-A grants. These are flexible block grants that support well-rounded education like arts and civics, safe and healthy schools, and technology so all students benefit, not just those in wealthy districts or neighborhoods. The grants have bipartisan support and are an essential part of ESSA and it’s unacceptable that the Department does not see their value.”


Bonamici also expressed frustration that the Department of Education has not replied to two letters about the reinstatement of ACICS, an accreditor that oversaw some of the largest collapses of institutions of higher education in American history. The Congresswoman led the letters with several of her colleagues last year. 


“We urged you to immediately rescind the decision, and we expressed concern that the Department’s decision was based at least in part on erroneous and misleading information, including claims that ACICS secured the endorsement and support from other accrediting agencies, which turned out to be false,” Bonamici said. “We also requested information and documentation that you considered. You have not answered our letters... Why did the Department fully reinstate an accreditor that repeatedly accredited schools that harmed students?”


The questions about DeVos’ attempt to roll back protections for transgender students came the day after Bonamici chaired a Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee hearing on the Equality Act. The legislation would amend long-standing civil rights laws to clarify that prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sex includes gender identity and sexual orientation.


“We know that transgender students are frequently bullied and victimized, and we know also that the 2016 guidance to schools about transgender students was applauded by education and health care experts – educators, counselors, pediatricians, psychologists - because it made students safer at school,” Bonamici said. “But your Department rolled back that guidance, creating uncertainty and concern. When you rolled back that guidance, did you know that the stress of harassment and discrimination can lead to lower attendance and grades as well as depression and anxiety for transgender students?”


The Congresswoman has long been a vocal advocate for diversity and equity in education. She has been critical of Education Sec. Betsy DeVos’ attempts to roll back school discipline guidance and failure to act in the best interest of students.


Bonamici also played a lead role in the passage of ESSA, which replaces No Child Left Behind, reduces testing, puts more focus on well-rounded education, and gives more decision-making back to states and local districts. She has led efforts in the House to boost funding for Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grants under Title IV-A.