The XX Factor

Betsy DeVos All Smiles as She Endorses States’ Rights to Discriminate Against Children

The Secretary of Education, defending the right of states to turn minority students away from publicly funded schools.


Betsy DeVos is loving life right now. In a Wednesday hearing with the House Appropriations subcommittee, the Secretary of Education gleefully defended her school-choice philosophy from Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, who asked DeVos whether charter schools that refuse to admit students of certain demographics would still get federal funding.

Clark used Bloomington, Indiana’s Lighthouse Christian Academy as an example. The school currently gets more than $665,000 in state funding through a school voucher program, Clark said. It also openly reserves the right to deny admittance to any student in a family where there is “homosexual or bisexual activity” or family members who practice “alternate gender identity.” If Indiana applies for federal funding for schools like these, Clark asked DeVos, would her Department of Education require them to stop discriminating against LGBTQ students and families?

DeVos didn’t say yes or no. She just smiled and stuck to the generations-old cover for violent oppression in America. “The states set up the rules,” she said. “I believe states continue to have flexibility in putting together programs.”

“You are the backstop for students and the right to access a quality education,” Clark continued. “Would you in this case say, ‘we are going to overrule, and you cannot discriminate—whether it be on sexual orientation, race, special needs in our voucher programs’?” She also asked DeVos whether a school that refused to accept African-American students, for instance, would be eligible for federal funding under the voucher system DeVos endorses.

The U.S. Secretary of Education declined to provide even one example of any kind of discrimination that might preclude a school from receiving federal funding. “I think the Office of Civil Rights and our Title IX protections are broadly applicable across the board,” DeVos said, which is quite rich, considering that the Republican Party has made a major stink over what they consider OCR’s overreach in addressing sexual assault and discrimination in schools. “But when it comes to parents making choices on behalf of their students—”

“This isn’t about parents making choices,” Clark interrupted. “This is about use of federal dollars.”

In the final moments of the exchange, DeVos delivered what she must have imagined to be an inspiring call to arms on behalf of American children. “I go back to the bottom line, is we believe that parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children’s schooling and education decisions and too many children today are trapped in schools that don’t work for them,” she said. “We have to do something different than continuing a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. And that is the focus, and states and local communities are best equipped to make these decisions and framework on behalf of their students.”

DeVos calls what she’s endorsing “state flexibility.” States, she’s saying, should have the flexibility to exclude marginalized demographics from federally funded public schools if they deem it appropriate for their students. No cookie-cutter integrated school solutions for DeVos, who once praised education under Jim Crow as a pioneering example of school choice! The Secretary of Education wants students to have all of the options, including federally funded options that allow them to avoid learning alongside queer students, students of color, students of faith, or students with disabilities, if their parents prefer it that way.