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DeVos, House Democrats Clash Over Education Freedom Scholarships

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s $5 billion plan to provide students with more school choices was met with skepticism from House Democrats at a recent hearing.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to shake up the status quo at the Department of Education to give students more options to obtain an education through Education Freedom Scholarships. However, her proposal was met with skepticism from House Democrats at an April 10 House Education and Labor Committee hearing.

In January, committee chairman Bobby Scott introduced a bill to invest $100 billion in school infrastructure called the Rebuild America’s Schools Act. But DeVos criticized the measure in her opening testimony and during questioning.

“Our proposal of a $5 billion tax credit draws a bright contrast to what some have proposed $100 billion for buildings versus $5 billion for students. This administration urges this body to invest in students,” said DeVos.

When pressed on her desire to focus on EFS, DeVos said she believes that “we need to pivot and try something different and empower students at the local level to make different choices.” DeVos also said she wants crumbling infrastructure to be the responsibility of state governments and local communities.

The EFS proposal would provide a $5 billion annual federal tax credit for voluntary donations to state-based scholarship programs. The scholarships will be funded through voluntary contributions from taxpayers to state-identified scholarship granting organizations. However, the implication that EFS will not come out of ED funding isn’t exactly accurate, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

DeVos also focused her testimony on her desire to expand the Pell Grant program beyond the traditional four-year college degree.

“The vast majority of students today do not pursue a traditional four-year degree,” said DeVos. “We must urgently rethink our approach to higher education because today federal student aid holds $1.5 trillion in outstanding student loans.”

Her proposal is to expand Pell Grant eligibility to short term, “high quality” programs for certifications and dual enrollment programs. “We know that there are many jobs today that require just a short-term program and yet we have been very rigid in how we view the use of Pell funds,” said DeVos. “We believe in expanding that and look forward to work with congress on the appropriate guardrails.”

When it comes to financial aid, DeVos touted the release of the myStudentAid app, which allows students to submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms via a mobile app. She also expressed her support for the FAFSA Act that passed the Senate during the last legislative session but that was not taken up in the House.

In addition, DeVos also stated that more information will be added to ED’s College Scorecard. Students will be able to get program-level data by institution so that they can compare between institutions and see what the cost will be at different colleges and universities.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

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