Congresswoman grills Betsy DeVos for trying to 'destroy public education'

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Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) asked the education secretary why every decision she has made 'harmed students instead of empowering them.'

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) lit into Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at a House committee hearing on Thursday, accusing her of working to "destroy public education" in America.

Wilson was criticizing DeVos' refusal to provide answers about student loan debt relief, a topic over which the education secretary has been heavily scrutinized in recent months.

"I've worked with Democrats and Republicans to advance the goal of quality education for young people," Wilson said, during a House Education and Labor Committee hearing.

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"I've had some honest disagreement with my friends in the Republican Party about how to move education forward, but I never — not one time — believed that they were out to destroy public education until I met you. Why has every decision you've made harmed students instead of empowering them?"

 

Wilson noted that the education secretary should be the "champion" of students and that DeVos was routinely booed whenever she appeared at a public school.

"You are the most unpopular person in our government," she added.

Thursday's hearing was held to examine the Department of Education's failure to implement "borrower defense," debt relief protections for students who take out loans for higher education and are defrauded by their colleges or universities.

DeVos has repeatedly attempted to eliminate debt relief for those students. A federal judge held her in contempt in October for defying a court order to stop collecting loan payments from them.

DeVos has also decimated protections for LGBTQ students, attacked teachers, refused to aid veterans with student loan debt, proposed eliminating support for the Special Olympics, and fought against sexual assault victims.

Donald Trump nominated DeVos in 2017, angering education advocates who pointed to her record of attacking public schools and bankrolling private school voucher efforts. Even in the GOP-controlled Senate, she was confirmed only after Mike Pence broke a tie vote — a first for a Cabinet nominee.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the top Republican member on the House Education and Labor Committee, complained Thursday that Wilson's comments to DeVos were "absolutely over the line."

"To say that Secretary DeVos is trying to destroy public education is going too far, and I believe every one of my colleagues agrees," Foxx complained.

Committee Chair Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) rejected a request to strike Wilson's comments from the record, instead reminding members to "refrain from questioning the motives of the members and the witnesses."

Wilson was not the only committee member present at Thursday's hearing who took issue with DeVos' answers.

In one exchange, Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) asked DeVos why she hadn't read a specific document relevant to the hearing — one cited in a national news story the week prior, which flagged suggestions from career officials that student loan debt for defrauded borrowers be relieved — to which DeVos responded, "I don't need to read everyone document."

Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, admonished DeVos, stating that part of getting the borrower's defense process right "requires reading."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.