In a stunning exchange during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos refused to say that she would protect students against discrimination on basis of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or special needs.
During the hearing, Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark asked whether the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Indiana, which does not allow students from families “where there is homosexual or bisexual activity” or “practicing alternate gender identity,” would be granted federal funding. The school currently receives $665,000 in state vouchers for students.
“If this school, which obviously is approved to discriminate against LGBT students in Indiana, if Indiana applies for this federal funding, will you stand up that this school be open to all students?” Clark asked.
DeVos, calling Clark’s question “broad,” deflected, saying, “I would like to refer back to your question—”
“I’m sure you would,” Clark said. “You are the backstop for students and their right to access a quality education. Would you, in this case, say ‘We are going to overrule and you cannot discriminate, whether it be on sexual orientation, race, special needs, in our voucher programs?’ Will that be a guarantee from you for our students?”
DeVos deflected yet again, saying, “For states who have programs that allow for parents to make choices, they set up the rules around that.”
“So that’s a no,” Clark said, and continued, describing a scenario of a school that discriminated against African-American students. “Do you see any situation where you would step in?”
DeVos then said some garbage about “parents making choices,” and, for the third, fourth, and fifth time, Clark repeated her yes or no questions:“There’s no situation, where, if the state approved it, that you would put the state flexibility over the students?”
DeVos dismissed the scenario as “hypothetical.”
“It’s not a hypothetical,” Clark said. “This is a real school applying for—that receives dollars.”
With Clark’s time up, DeVos finished her full talking point, in which she made clear that she would not fight against discrimination. “The bottom line is we believe that parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children’s schooling and education decisions and too many children today are trapped in schools that don’t work for them,” DeVos said. “We have to do something different than continuing a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach and that is the focus, and states and communities are best equipped to make these decisions and frameworks on behalf of their—”
Clark, appropriately enraged, got in the final word. “I am shocked that you cannot come up with one example of discrimination that you would stand up for students.”