WASHINGTON — During more than two hours of testimony Tuesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos answered questions from Senate Appropriations subcommittee members regarding the Trump administration’s budget proposal.
The administration put forward a $59 billion education budget for the upcoming fiscal year, a $9 billion reduction from the 2017 continuing resolution.
Two senators who asked DeVos about the suggested plan were U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. While both senators addressed different issues, Manchin and Capito made remarks concerning about how budget cuts would affect West Virginia students.
Capito first addressed DeVos about West Virginia State University being removed from the Upward Bound program. The initiative has, since 1965, provided projects for high school students who come from lower-income families or those in which neither parent has a bachelor’s degree.
According to Capito, the Institute university was cut following a worksheet error.
“Not even their actual application,” Capito said. “$104 on a worksheet has ended a 50-year relationship.”
DeVos testified May 24 to a House appropriations committee on the budget, and said at the time she would consider reviewing Upward Bound grants. The department would use funds from the 2017 Omnibus to review all the applicants.
DeVos said Tuesday applicants were rejected because of formatting problems prior to her taking office. Yet the secretary said while she would like to review West Virginia State University’s application again, it could not be done.
“I don’t accept that you can’t relook at something,” Capito said, picking up a stack of papers. “I’ve got letters here from students that are in that program. Many of them, the students that have no options. They have parents that haven’t gone to college.”
“Several of them are in really desperate family situations where, if it were not for Upward Bound, they would not have the opportunity or the aspirations to further their educations.”
Capito moved on to 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a program which provides academic support during non-school hours for students at high-poverty and low-performing institutions. Under the proposed budget, the centers would be eliminated, saving the department $1.2 billion.
Capito said states with limited budgets, such as West Virginia, cannot provide services to students, leaving 7,000 children without service.
She added with the state’s current revenue problems, the West Virginia Department of Education cannot address this issue successfully.
“Senator Manchin and my state is $500 million in the hole,” she said. “This is not going to be something that we can expand statewide.”
Capito went on to mention how the program has produced a 100 percent graduation rate among West Virginia students.
DeVos said overall, the cuts were made on program effectiveness and the number of students served.
“The 21st Century programs are really reaching only less than half the students they are intended,” she said. “Of the half that participate, there’s very inconsistent participation on their part.”
Manchin spoke after Capito, saying West Virginia schools are struggling because of declining enrollment numbers and problems relating to opioid use.
In the proposed budget, the education department set aside $175.5 million for rural schools, an amount equal to what is allocated in the current resolution.
However, the budget would eliminate $400 million of Title IV block grants, which allows schools to create a diversified curriculum and purchase needed technology.
While DeVos said West Virginia could have the opportunity for state and local offices to focus on addressing education concerns, Manchin said the financial resources are not available.
“We all have well, good intentions,” he said. “But the state is facing some budget challenges like other states, too. And these programs are so vitally important just to stabilize a structure that has just fallen apart.”
DeVos also said at the hearing schools that receive federal funds have to follow federal law. She did not say, however, whether those schools have to protect LGBTQ students from discrimination if a law is unclear.