February 27, 2020
Good morning, Secretary Devos. Welcome to the Subcommittee. It is our second budget hearing of the year. It is your fourth budget hearing with us. Today, we are examining the President’s Department of Education budget request for fiscal year 2021.
As I was reviewing the budget materials, Madame Secretary, this much was clear to me. You are seeking to privatize public education. But, I believe that is the wrong direction for our students and our country. Instead, we need to be moving towards expanding public policies like early childhood education that we know help students to succeed. We see this in other countries around the globe. They are not shrinking public support; they are expanding it.
I will get more into the consequences of the cuts that you are proposing. But, I want to start by examining your privatization philosophy, the false premise on which it is built, and the research it ignores.
Contrary to your claims, the nation’s public education system, which 90 percent of our children attend, has witnessed significant progress for all groups of students over the last 30 years. Average mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have improved for 4th graders (by 13 percent) and 8th graders (by 7 percent). While overall reading improvements have been more modest, Black 4th graders’ scores improved by 6 percent and 8th graders’ by 3 percent. Hispanic 4th graders’ scores improved by 6 percent and 8th graders’ by 5 percent.
There is more to do to address the disparities in achievement. We know we face significant challenges in assisting the kids that come into our system in education districts where they experience poverty and exposure to violence, often resulting in trauma. But, the solution is not less resources, nor is it more privatization.
In fact, the administration’s own data has shown how privatization has let down students. The Trump administration evaluated the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and found that vouchers had a statistically significant negative impact on the mathematics achievement of impacted students. In other words, more vouchers, lower math achievement. That is not a lone data point, either. Previous multi-sector studies using NAEP data have found that no student achievement scores for children in private schools were higher than those of children in public schools by any statistically significant degree.
So, your push to privatize public education is based on false premise that is not supported by data.
Its consequences would be to undermine the education of students in nearly every state, particularly for vulnerable students in high-need regions, including rural parts of our country.
• You would end career and college readiness for 560,000 low-income, middle school students across 45 states by eliminating the highly competitive grant program known as GEAR UP (-$365 million).
• You would endanger academic tutoring, personal counseling, and other programs for 800,000 students in sixth grade by slashing TRIO programs by $140 million. TRIO serves low-income, first-generation students and students with disabilities, helping them graduate from college.
• You would endanger education access for children experiencing homelessness by eliminating the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program (-$102 million). This funding is desperately needed. In the 2016-2017 school year, more than 1.3 million enrolled children had experienced homelessness at some point in the past 3 years, an increase of 7 percent from 2014-2015.
• You would endanger youth literacy as well as potentially increase class size and undermine efforts to support diverse teachers by eliminating the main program — Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants which we increased for the first time in many years (-$2.1 billion).
• You would potentially put higher education out of the financial grasp of students by flat funding the Pell Grant ($6,345). 40 percent of undergraduate students or 7 million students rely on Pell Grants to afford higher education. But while Pell covered 79 percent of the average costs of tuition, fees, room, and board at a four-year public institution in 1975, it covers only 29 percent today. Our students cannot afford for us to stand pat like this.
• And, finally, your budget would risk exacerbating the financial challenges of under-resourced rural districts by converting rural formula grants into the block grant. These districts already struggle with lower student populations and higher transportation costs and your move to undermine their funding in this way is unacceptable.
With all of this, let me say, it is not going to happen.
I am supportive of the recognition of I-D-E-A State grants ($100 million proposed increase) and career and technical education, ($680 million proposed increase) for CTE State grants. Although I am disappointed that Adult Education State Grants are left with level funding. I plan to ask you that about later.
You have also once again requested an increase for student loan servicing. We included new reforms in the fiscal year 2020 bill to help us conduct more oversight and ensure borrowers are getting the help they need. Many of these ideas stemmed from an oversight hearing that this Subcommittee held last year. To be direct, I will need to see how the Department implements the new requirements as I review your request for next year.
And, with regard to Charter Schools, there is a place for them. They have a role in the education system. However, we have moved in the direction of creating a parallel education system. Concerns remain around issues of accountability and transparency, which to this point they have not been forthcoming. As I have said again and again, I believe Charter Schools ought to be held to the same rigor. And, where they fail, we need to know about it.
To close, Madame Secretary, you are clearly seeking to privatize public education. I hope that I have been clear that we are not going to do that. Because doing so ignores the research indicating the gains we have made, ignores the many areas private education shortchanges students, ignores the very reason the federal government has needed to be involved in education as so powerfully indicated with Brown vs. Board of Education, and ignores the spirit and values of this country. No, instead, we need to be expanding public policies that boost education attainment, not restricting or reducing them.