May 24 (UPI) -- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos explained Wednesday to a U.S. House appropriations subcommittee her department's priority with a $9 billion budget cut.
DeVos, making her first public appearance before Congress since the tough questioning in her confirmation hearing in January, testified to the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee about her budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 that reduces spending 13 percent.
"The budget also reflects a series of tough choices," Devos said. "If taxpayer money were limitless, we wouldn't need a budget at all. But by its very definition, a budget reflects the difficult decisions of how best to appropriate the limited taxpayer dollars we have. This budget does so by putting an emphasis on the programs that are proven to help students, while taking a hard look at programs that are well-intended but simply haven't yielded meaningful results."
Her emphasis is on returning more decision-making power to states and additional options for parents, including charter schools and vouchers to cover the cost of private school placement. She was chairwoman of the Alliance for School Choice.
"I've seen the headlines, and I understand those figures may sound alarming for some; however, this budget refocuses the department on supporting states and school districts in their efforts to provide high-quality education to all our students," she said. "At the same time, the budget simplifies funding for college, while continuing to help make a higher education more accessible to all."
Her plans include cutting after-school programs, teacher training, and career and technical education. But she proposed reinvesting $1.4 billion of the savings for school choice. That includes $250 million for vouchers to help students attend private and religious schools. DeVos also wants to increase the federal investment in charter schools by 50 percent to $500 million per year.
"We cannot allow any parent to feel as if their child is trapped in a school that is not meeting their needs," DeVos said.
Several Republicans praised her push to expand school choice. "I've always made known my preference for giving parents the choice of where to send their students, because in the end the parents are the taxpayers," Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., said. "The parents are the ones who probably know best."
She also wants to eliminate subsidized loans and public service loan forgiveness, and cut in half the federal work-study program that helps college students earn money while in school.
Democrats attacked the budget proposal.
"This budget reflects the views of an administration filled with people who frankly never had to worry about their children going to college," said Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, the ranking Democrat on the full House Appropriations Committee. "And yet I'm most upset that this budget would undermine our public education system and the working families who depend on them."
In her opening statement, DeVos said her proposal is following President Donald Trump's priorities.
"In total, the president's budget fulfills his promise to devolve power from the federal government and place it in the hands of parents and families," she said. "It refocuses the department on supporting states in their efforts to provide a high-quality education to all of our students."
DeVos refused to say whether she would block private schools that discriminate against LGBT students from receiving federal dollars.
"We have to do something different than continuing a top-down, one-size-fits all approach," DeVos said.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said: "To take the federal government's responsibility out of that is just appalling and sad."
DeVos said that the Education Department responded: "I am not in any way suggesting that students should not be protected," she said.