By Elizabeth Olsson
Senior Policy Associate

The confirmation hearing of Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos did little to assuage our concerns about her fitness to serve. In fact, her testimony raised new apprehensions. It seems clear from her responses to questions presented by senators, Ms. DeVos is unaware of her legal obligations under critical federal education laws.

  • When asked if all schools that receive federal funding should be required to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which protects students with disabilities from discrimination. Ms. DeVos replied, “I think that’s an issue that’s best left to the states.” Later, when asked if she wasn’t aware the IDEA was a federal law, Ms. DeVos said she “may have confused it.”
  • When Senator Kaine asked Ms. DeVos if all K-12 schools that receive federal funding should be required to report the same information regarding instances of bullying, discipline, or harassment, she replied, “I look forward to reviewing that provision.”
  • Senator Murray asked Ms. DeVos if she would promise not to consider “reining in the office for civil rights,” a quote Senator Murray said was attributed to DeVos. Ms. DeVos declined to make that promise but stated that she didn’t believe she had used those words.
  • Ms. DeVos also stated she did not agree that all schools — including traditional public, charter, and private schools — that receive federal funding should be required to meet the same accountability standards.

Any Education Secretary will be responsible for enforcing federal laws, including several civil rights laws — such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.

If confirmed, one of DeVos’ primary responsibilities will be to collect civil rights data. Recent civil rights data released by the Education Department revealed the disproportionate impact on exclusionary and punitive discipline practices on students of color. During the 2013–14 school year, 2.8 million public school students received at least one out-of-school suspension, and black students bore the brunt of these and other disciplinary practices, including expulsions and school-based arrests[1]. Punitive disciplinary practices also disproportionately impact students with disabilities and students who identify as LGBTQ.[2]

Our nation’s students deserve an Education Secretary who is knowledgeable of and committed to enforcing federal laws designed to protect them from discrimination and to ensure they have access to a quality education. Now that we know more about Ms. DeVos’ positions on issues related to educational equity and her lack of willingness to commit to carrying out the duties assigned to the Education Secretary, we are even more convinced that she should not be entrusted with leading the Department of Education and continue to strongly oppose her nomination.

Read our letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions expressing opposition to the nomination of Elisabeth Prince DeVos as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

[1] U.S. Dep’t of Education, 2013–2014 Civil Rights Data Collection: A First Look (Jun. 7, 2016), http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/2013-14-first-look.pdf.

[2] Id. See also, Hilary Burdge, et al., LGBTQ Youth of Color: Discipline Disparities, School Push-Out, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline, 2 (2014), https://gsanetwork.org/files/aboutus/LGBTQ_brief_FINAL-web.pdf.