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Federal Flash: In Congressional Testimony, Was DeVos’s Response Against the Constitution?

It was a busy week on Capitol Hill – Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified in the House, but did one of her answers violate the Constitution? And could a $100 billion plan from congressional Democrats bring relief to striking teachers?

In a May 22 hearing, “Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education,” Chairwoman Virginia Foxx and Ranking Member Bobby Scott both delivered opening statements that offered condolences to the latest victims of gun violence at Santa Fe High School. But that was the only thing Republicans and Democrats had in common at the four-hour hearing, which marked the first time U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

The hearing covered several topics – the Commission on School Safety chaired by DeVos, student loans, career and technical education, and more. This post will focus on just two issues, but you can watch the hearing in its entirety from the committee’s website.

Chairwoman Foxx reminded the committee of her belief that the federal government has little to no role to play in education, noting that, “there are 4,543 words in the Constitution. Not one of them is the word “education,” or a synonym for it.”

Ranking Member Scott holds a very different view than Foxx and questioned Secretary DeVos on her approval of state plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA. Scott was especially concerned about state plans that do not incorporate the performance of historically underserved students as required under the law.

Mr. Scott took to Twitter to clarify that he doesn’t just wish the law required the performance to count, the law actually requires it:

Another tense moment in the hearing rose when Congressman Adriano Espaillat asked the Secretary if educators were to report students to immigration authorities if the students might be undocumented.

Secretary DeVos said, “These issues are state and local issues to be addressed and dealt with.” She also said, “we have laws and we also are compassionate.”

To be clear – Yes, we have laws. And, yes, we are compassionate. We also have a Supreme Court that decided over three decades ago that students have a Constitutional right under the Equal Protection clause to attend public school, regardless of their immigration status.

It really isn’t accurate to say this is a local issue. It’s a constitutional issue. One that was clarified by the Supreme Court in 1982 in Plyer v Doe. We want to be very clear about this – students have the right to attend public school regardless of their immigration status. If you would like more information on this, please watch the All4Ed webinar from a few months ago

On the same day Secretary DeVos testified on the Hill, Congressional democrats issued a call for an additional $100 billion investment in education. $50 billion would be dedicated toward increasing teacher compensation, and $50 billion would go toward school infrastructure. The proposal is part of an agenda Democrats are advancing called, A Better Deal.

This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the May 24 episode of Federal Flash, the Alliance for Excellent Education’s five-minute (or less!) video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. The video version is embedded below. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email at