Skip to main content

Betsy DeVos Sinks to New Low in Telling Congress It’s Fine for Schools to Discriminate


Betsy DeVos should just not talk to Congress. Like at all. Our voucher-loving Secretary of Education told the House Appropriations Committee yesterday that it’s perfectly fine for federally-funded schools to discriminate against students any old time they like.

No. I’m not kidding.

Here’s how it went down. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) asked DeVos what she thought of Lighthouse Christian Academy – an Indiana private school that refuses to admit students from families where there is “homosexual or bisexual activity.” Instead of giving an answer that sounded something like, “Lighthouse Christian Academy is run by a bunch of bigots and I want no part in funding a hate factory like that,” DeVos said that parents should have the choice to use federal money to send their kids to wherever they want.

I’m just going to interject here for a second. Parents do have the choice to send their kids wherever they want, including to schools that teach children dinosaurs never existed, and Jesus thinks gays should be stoned to death. That’s pronounced, “private school,” and parents can use their own money to pay the tuition. What Clark was actually talking about was public school – you know, the kind that federal tax dollars are used to fund. Those schools are expected to do two things: 1) provide education; and 2) follow the law. It’s pretty simple. Institutions wanting federal money must conform to federal standards. If Betsy has trouble following that concept, she may want to refer herself to the pro-life community, which will have no trouble explaining how institutions receiving federal funding must comply with federal requirements.

Schools are required to follow to federal civil rights laws. They are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. That’s the law. If Betsy DeVos doesn’t like it, she should run for Congress and try to change the Civil Rights Act. But for now (sigh), she’s the Secretary of Education, and she has to follow existing federal law.

At the hearing, Rep. Clark asked Secretary DeVos:

“You are the backstop for students and their right to access quality education. Would you in this case say we are going to overrule and you cannot discriminate, whether it be on sexual orientation, race, or special needs in our voucher programs. Will that be a guarantee from you to our students?”

Shockingly Predictably, DeVos gave a non-answer:

“The bottom line is we believe that parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children’s schooling and education decisions.”

Yes, Betsy. Parents are absolutely in the best position to make educational decisions for their kids – a maxim that is utterly irrelevant to the issue of whether schools that fail to comply with federal law should still receive federal funding. Parents are also in the best position to make medical and nutritional choices for their kids – but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean we should allow doctors to practice medicine without licenses, or that we should allow manufacturers to mislabel food packages.

During yesterday’s hearing, DeVos found herself trapped and woefully unprepared for this exchange with Rep. Clark:

Clark: “This isn’t about parents making choices. This is about use of federal dollars. You would put the state flexibility over our students?”

DeVos: “I think a hypothetical…”

Clark: “It’s not a hypothetical. It’s a real school.”

DeVos (invoking her go-to talking point): “Too many children today are trapped in schools that don’t work for them. We have to do something different than continuing a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach.”

I’m all for customizing education as much as possible to fit the needs of every community and every student. But I’m pretty sure that I’m okay with a little uniformity. No discriminating against gay kids, or kids with gay parents, seems like a safe place to start.

[Image via screengrab]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime:

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos