Prepared Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to the House Education and the Workforce Committee

Prepared Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to the House Education and the Workforce Committee

May 22, 2018

Below are today’s remarks as prepared for delivery. Click here to read the full written testimony submitted to Congress last week.

Chairwoman Foxx, Ranking Member Scott and Members of the Committee, thank you for the invitation to testify today. I’m pleased to share an update on the work being done on behalf of America’s students.

Our commitment to every student’s success is one we must renew every day, but first we must ensure our children are safe at school. When evil visited Parkland, Florida, it shocked us. It angered us. And it pained us. The tragedy at Santa Fe High School in Texas was only the most recent, devastating reminder that our nation must come together to address the underlying issues that create a culture of violence.

This Administration is committed to keeping our nation’s students and teachers safe at school. I’ve directed my Department to do everything within the law to encourage those states and districts affected to take advantage of flexibilities so new funds appropriated under Title IV are useful.

I’m also pleased that Attorney General Sessions, Secretary Azar and Secretary Nielsen join me on the Federal Commission on School Safety. We are seeking input from students, parents, teachers, school safety personnel, administrators, law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, school counselors -- anyone who is focused on identifying and elevating practical solutions.

Naturally, the primary responsibility for the physical security of schools rests with states and local communities. The Commission looks forward to delivering best practices and findings by year’s end.

While safety is of primary importance, I’d also like to share with you some exciting progress in a number of key areas and discuss other priorities we are pursuing as well.

I want to commend you, Dr. Foxx, for your leadership on moving to reauthorize and reform the outdated Higher Education Act (HEA) through the PROSPER Act. This is an issue where we share great passion to help American education catch up to the needs of today’s – and tomorrow’s – students.

I look forward to working with the full Congress to advance meaningful reform, and I know the president looks forward to signing it into law.

In 2015, you wisely passed legislation – the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – that aims to return power to those closest to students. ESSA’s overwhelming bipartisan message was clear: States and local communities -- not the Federal Government – are best positioned to improve education for every student in America.

And it is my hope that, in turn, the states and local school districts will do the right thing and empower principals, teachers, local leaders and parents. Teachers and parents know best how to meet the needs of their students.

We have worked with states to ensure their plans meet the law’s requirements, and I have approved 46 plans. But the true test of ESSA will be how States, school districts and schools turn their plans into action and embrace the flexibility the law allows. We look forward to monitoring the progress made and provide our support where appropriate.

In accordance with the President’s Executive Order, the Department is also in the process of comprehensively reviewing current regulations and guidance to ensure they are relevant, necessary and in the best interest of students.

We are removing old and outdated regulations and guidance letters from the books, including the many rendered obsolete as you have updated and amended laws.

In the coming months, we intend to announce negotiated rulemaking to address higher education regulations which stifle innovation by limiting opportunities for students, and unnecessarily burdening agencies and institutions.

To ensure fairness to all students, work to draft new proposed regulations on sexual harassment and misconduct is well underway. Schools must continue to confront these issues head-on, including the horrific incidents that all too often arise. Accordingly, the adjudication process at schools must be fair and impartial, giving everyone – survivors, the accused, parents and institutions – more confidence in its outcomes.

The Department has never regulated on the issue of sexual harassment under Title IX since the Supreme Court ruled in 1999, relying instead on letters from unelected political appointees drafted behind closed doors. Well, as I said when we announced the changes, the era of rule by letter is over. The consensus on both the right and the left is that the prior administration erred when it failed to engage the public through notice and comment rulemaking on this issue. We plan to release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for public comment in the coming months.

We are also in the process of rulemaking on two higher education regulations that were poorly designed: borrower defense to repayment and gainful employment. These rules must protect students from bad faith actors, but they must also treat both institutions and taxpayers fairly. These proposed rules are under review at OMB, and we expect to publish for public comment soon.

Perhaps no effort has a greater potential to positively and directly impact postsecondary students than reforms being undertaken at Federal Student Aid (FSA). The Next Generation Financial Services Environment will be the most significant improvement to administering student aid in two decades. It will modernize FSA’s approach to technology and customer service to provide a world-class experience and improve borrower outcomes. I look forward to working with this Committee on ways to further improve the experience for students.

This work is indicative of how we are approaching every issue impacting students. They do not have the time for adults to simply tinker around the edges. We must make bold, fearless changes that allow all students to pursue an education that meets their unique needs.

That is why I challenge the Department and every teacher, administrator, parent and leader from every walk of life in America to rethink school.

Rethink means that we must question everything, regardless of how difficult or politically sensitive it might be, to ensure nothing limits students or leaves them unprepared.

It’s past time to ask some of the questions that often get labeled as “non-negotiable” or just don’t get asked at all.

Questions such as…

Why are students grouped by age?

Why do schools close for the summer?

Why can’t a student learn at his or her own pace?

Why are students limited based upon the faculty and facilities available? 

And there are many more…

We must also rethink education after high school and embrace the fact that a global economy demands a posture of lifelong learning. Education does not end with the movement of a tassel. We must put to rest the notion that a traditional four-year degree is the only pathway to success. We are working to expand high-quality options available for students, and we look forward to working with Congress to ensure that the PROSPER Act addresses this need as well.

And finally, we must rethink the Department. We have developed a reorganization plan to more efficiently serve students and the taxpayer. The Department must protect the rights of students -- especially the most vulnerable -- while empowering parents, teachers and local leaders to identify the best ways to meet the unique needs of the students they serve.

These reforms are not rooted in a partisan ideology nor are they designed to benefit one group over another. They are focused solely on the students, parents and teachers I meet each week – and millions more like them.

All they ask for is the opportunity to learn, to teach, to grow in a safe, exciting and challenging environment.

No student in America should ever be denied the equal opportunity to a great education. We work each day to fulfill that promise.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share where we have been and where we are going. I look forward to working together in support of all students, and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.