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Chairwoman DeLauro Opening Remarks for House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Hearing with Secretary DeVos on the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Request

March 26, 2019
Press Release

(As prepared for delivery)

A video of the hearing can be found here.

Good morning, Secretary DeVos. Welcome to the Subcommittee for our second budget hearing of the year. Today, we are examining the President’s proposed budget request for FY 2020 for the Department of Education.

I believe this budget is cruel and reckless. It will hurt the middle class and low-income families that most need our help. In fact, the proposed budget cuts nearly $9 billion from the Department of Education – including the proposed $2 billion Pell Grants rescission. Meanwhile, it proposes a new $5 billion annual tax scheme – which is unregulated and unaccountable – to fund a private school voucher program that will undermine our public schools and it allows the unaccounted use of tax dollars.

With provisions like that, I am left with a very serious question for you. How can you support this budget? I mean that genuinely. As secretary of the Department of Education, how can you support, even boast, about taking 10%, more than 12% if you count the Pell rescission, away from our teachers and students. It is beyond the pale.

You should know that education is a top priority for this subcommittee. Today’s is our third hearing on programs related to the Department of Education.

First, we scrutinized the $1.7 billion the subcommittee provides for loan servicing. We heard examples of servicers putting students on the path to default by misinforming them about their repayment options and the Department’s failures to hold servicers accountable. We heard from the Office of Inspector General (IG), who cited in their recent audit report about how Federal Student Aid was asleep at the wheel in its oversight of servicers and even relied on the memories of its own employees for tracking recurring noncompliance with federal law.  Sixty-one percent of all monitoring reports showed evidence of servicer failures. F-S-A has said it has or will implement all of the IG’s recommendations. Yet, F-S-A has yet to fully implement past recommendations from the Government Accountability Office. And while the Next Gen initiative has promise, the Department needs to be taking into consideration the compliance of contractors upholding the law, which is not currently the case. In that regard, I find it alarming that within three months of your confirmation, you withdrew the Mitchell and King memos, which would have addressed many of the system’s current failings.

Second, we held an oversight hearing on predatory for-profit colleges. They enroll 9 percent of all students in postsecondary education. Yet, for-profit colleges account for 34 percent of all student loan defaults. Their business model relies on exploiting federal financial aid like Pell Grants. These schools target the most vulnerable and our veterans. We heard from a student veteran who was left with a worthless degree and $100,000 in debt after being lured into thinking Pell and the GI bill would cover his costs. Meanwhile, the Department is working to roll back critical protections for students and taxpayers (specifically, the Gainful Employment and Borrower Defense rules, and the Department is currently working on efforts that could roll back even more).

Before we get into the specifics for the Department of Education budget, let me say that the President’s budget guiding principle – one that bolsters military spending while sharply cutting funding in education and training, while claiming we simply cannot afford it – is an   argument I wholeheartedly reject. And I am not alone.

Earlier this year, more than 300 military leaders wrote to Congress asking for balanced investments in both defense and non-defense spending.  They say – and I quote – “Non-defense discretionary programs play a variety of roles in supporting and enhancing our national security by contributing directly to health, education, and development of our youngest generation.” They reached this conclusion because 71 percent of young Americans cannot qualify for military service because they are, quote, “too poorly educated, medically or physically unfit, or have a disqualifying record of crime or drug abuse.”

I do appreciate that the president’s budget requests new funding for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) carve-out initiated by this subcommittee in the Education Innovation and Research program. That is a commitment I share.

And while I am pleased that the president’s budget request abandons a previous proposal to shift $500 million from neighborhood public schools – where 90 percent of children attend – to private schools, I am disappointed that the administration is proposing a new $5 billion a year tax scheme. Data we have strongly suggests that vouchers do not work. An Institute of Education Sciences (IES) gold standard evaluation of Washington, D.C.— the only federally funded voucher program—found that vouchers negatively impacted student achievement. And I might add you are cutting funding for I-E-S by 15 percent– this is the entity that your budget documents say “provides valuable insight into how public dollars could be better used to improve student outcomes.”

The three Education budgets from this administration have proposed the largest cuts to education funding in four decades ago (since the Department was created in 1979). Shame on you. Madam Secretary this is one your watch.

In your testimony, you talk about freedom, but what is happening here is that you and the president are proposing to abandon middle class families and families in need.

Yet, I will note, the administration is not shy about spending and using government when it comes to benefiting corporations and the richest,  such as the $1.5 trillion dollar tax scam and crop insurance subsidies, which can go to the richest of the rich since there are no eligibility caps. No, Republicans only oppose spending when it aids the vulnerable, when it promotes the common good, or when it makes opportunity real for people.

And, many of these cuts were rejected under a Republican Congress for two years. Yet, here are they are again.

You have eliminated 30 programs totaling $7 billion and cut another $1 billion.

Eliminating the Impact Aid Payment for Federal Properties, Special Olympics, Afterschool and grants that help people with disabilities find jobs;

Eliminating literacy programs that build the foundation for a lifetime of learning, and the main program – Title II – that helps attract and retain high-quality and diverse teachers, while directing scarce education resources to unproven, unaccountable private entities through a new “teacher voucher” proposal;

Eliminating a temporary fix for rejected borrowers who thought they qualified for Public Service Loan Forgiveness;

And, slashing Adult Education, Federal Work Study, TRIO and GEAR UP.

On the mandatory side – outside of this committee’ jurisdiction – the budget again proposes to eliminate subsidized student loans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) – worsening the student debt crisis.  In a rare move, the Trump Administration’s own Department of Defense opposed the House Republican’s Higher Education Act reauthorization bill last Congress because it too eliminated P-S-L-F stating – and I quote – “ DoD opposes this legislation because the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program has been an important recruitment and retention tool for the military to compete with the civilian sector…”

And even a boost to School Safety National Activities is not what it seems. It seeks to make up for the proposed elimination of the $1.2 billion Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grants, which includes a set-aside for school safety. S-S-A-E grants support mental health counselors and services, in addition to providing a well-rounded education by providing exposure to music and the arts.

This new proposal is still a poorly designed cut that does nothing to look at the role of guns in school shootings, just like the Federal Commission on School Safety failed to do.

At this point, let me say that I also continue to oppose your silence, which leaves the door open to states using federal dollars to arm teachers versus current law.

Congress never contemplated that SSAE grants would be used for the purchase of firearms. In fact, Congress denounced the presence of firearms in schools in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Section 4102(5)(B), which promotes programs that foster, quote, “the creation and maintenance of a school environment free of weapons.”

And, the Congress reiterated our opposition to taxpayer-funded guns in schools in the STOP School Violence Act (in the FY 2018 omnibus). It explicitly prohibits program funds from being used for the purchase of firearms or firearms training.

I fought hard on this issue in last year’s funding bill, advocating that we make clear the Congress never contemplated that such flexibility would allow for the purchase of firearms. My proposal was simple – follow current law. But, we could not reach consensus. I will keep fighting.

For example, this year, we are going to have an opportunity to review charter schools, with respect to accountability and effectiveness. The OIG has raised some issues that we must examine, including findings that States mismanaged charter school closures and that the Department failed to provide adequate guidance or oversight on the issue. We are an appropriations committee. And, we have appropriated serious money (more than $400 million last year alone). We need to conduct oversight.

The Trump administration would do well to take a page out of the oath of doctors, their first principle, which is “do no harm.” Yet, this budget inflicts harms. That is why I raise again, I do not understand how you can support this budget and be the secretary of Education. This budget underfunds education at every turn—from early childhood education, K-12 education, postsecondary education through workforce training. Even programs you claim to support are simply programs you spare. Title I and I-D-E-A, core programs, are level funded. That is not sufficient. We have promised, and owe, our students and teachers more. I am not alone in my criticism. That is why those criticizing this budget include the National Center for Learning Disabilities, National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, the School Superintendents Association, Council for Opportunity in Education, Council for Education Funding and others.

Clearly, this should be a concern for you, as well.

I look forward to further discussion of your budget request and other policy areas under your jurisdiction.

But first, let me turn it to my colleague, the Ranking Member from Oklahoma, Tom Cole. Mr. Cole?