DeVos Defends Trump Budget to Senate

In a hearing before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was called to defend the budget proposal put forth for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) by President Trump for fiscal year (FY) 2018.  Senators on both sides of the aisle expressed skepticism about the budget proposal, especially deep cuts to popular programs like teacher training and the suggested elimination of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.


From the beginning, lawmakers dismissed the numbers in the budget proposal, asking DeVos instead for an explanation of her policies.  “I think it's likely the kinds of cuts proposed in this budget will not occur,” said Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Roy Blunt (R-MO), “so we really need to fully understand your priorities and why they are your priorities.”


Many also referred to the controversy raised by DeVos when she testified before the House Committee last month.  The President’s budget contains several proposals to expand school choice, including a $1 billion Title I portability program and a $250 million proposal to fund and study the impact of vouchers which can be used in private schools.  When asked by lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee whether federal legal protections, including protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), would follow students using vouchers to attend private schools, DeVos indicated it would be up to individual States.  But in the Senate Committee hearing this week, she said instead that “schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law.”  However, DeVos refused to go into greater detail about this statement, simply repeating her statement that schools which accept voucher students must follow federal law.  She also refused to comment on whether schools would be able to reject vouchers from lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, saying that the issue of whether those students have federal protections is still unsettled, and that “on areas where the law is unsettled, this department is not going to be issuing decrees.  That is a matter for Congress and the courts to settle.”


There was also some disagreement and confusion over whether programs would be level-funded or cut under the proposed budget.  DeVos told the committee that Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) would be level-funded under this proposal, and that the Administration’s “intent is to fully fund Title I.”  But Title I would only be level-funded as compared to a previous short-term spending resolution, not the final FY 2017 appropriations level.  DeVos also said that the President’s budget would increase spending for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), despite conflicting numbers from the Office of Management and Budget which say IDEA would take a significant hit.


When asked by Senators about cuts to several programs including Career and Technical Education grants to States, DeVos said that these changes should be considered part of a series of broader steps to streamline higher education programs in general.  The Secretary insisted that proposed cuts in the budget came about because the programs were duplicative of other federal efforts, and that “right now we have a lot of efforts that really overlap.”


Final program appropriations for FY 2017 as compared to the President’s FY 2018 budget request are as follows (note that these numbers are different than the contrast quoted by Secretary DeVos since the administration compares its numbers to the temporary FY 2017 Continuing Resolution in place earlier this year):


Appropriation (in thousands of dollars)
Program Final FY 2017 President’s FY 2018 Request FY 2017 as compared to FY 2018 Request
ESEA Title I Grants $15,459,802 $14,881,458 -$578,343
ESEA Title II (Teacher Quality) $2,055,830 $0 -$2,055,830
ESEA Title III (English Language Acquisition) $737,400 $735,998 -$1,402
Education Innovation and Research $100,000 $370,000 $270,000
Impact Aid $1,328,603 $1,236,435 -$92,168
21st Century Community Learning Centers $1,191,673 $0 -$1,191,673
Charter School Grants $342,172 $500,000 $157,828
Student Support and Academic Enrichment (Title IV-A) $400,000 $0 -$400,000
Promise Neighborhoods $73,254 $60,000 -$13,254
IDEA Part B State Grants** $12,002,848 $11,890,202 -$112,646
IDEA Part C Grants $458,556 $457,684 -$872
CTE State grants $1,117,598 $949,499 -$168,099
Adult Education State grants $581,955 $485,849 -$96,106
TRIO $950,000 $808,289 -$141,711
Head Start, including Early Head Start $9,253,095 $9,168,000 -$85,095
CCDBG $2,856,000 $2,761,000 -$95,000
Preschool Development Grants $250,000 $0 -$250,000
**According to ED, IDEA Part B would receive a $112.6 million cut, but the Office of Management and Budget tables indicate a suggested cut of nearly $954 million; it is not clear which number is correct.


Andrew Ujifusa, “Senators Hammer at DeVos on Planned Budget Cuts, Proposed Vouchers,” Education Week: Politics K-12, June 6, 2017.
Lydia Wheeler, “Senators Tell DeVos She Has a Tough Job Defending Education Budget,” The Hill, June 6, 2017.

About the Author

Julia Martin is an attorney with the Washington, DC law firm of Brustein & Manasevit, PLLC. Established in 1980, the Firm is nationally recognized for its federal education regulatory and legislative practice, providing legal advice regarding compliance with all major federal education programs as well as the federal grants management requirements, including the Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR). In addition, they work with agencies on federal spending flexibility, allowability, policies and procedures, audit defense and resolution and legislative updates. The Firm provides government relations services for the National Title I Association.