While for the past two years the GOP called Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to testify only once before the House Education Committee, its new chair has a vigorous agenda for the department’s leadership. Rep. Bobby Scott (D–VA03) has plans to explore a long list of education policies and decisions in an effort to energize public attention concerning the Secretary’s management of the department.
DeVos dodged questioning from Scott last year concerning accountability for states in adhering to federal law concerning measurement of achievement. Scott told The New York Times, “Now that we’re in the majority, we can ask the same questions with the expectation that we’ll get an answer.” DeVos had over 1,330 meetings and phone calls with GOP contacts over the past two years, while only a dozen with Democrats. Scott plans to make up that ground.
In 2016, President Obama revoked the recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools following the collapse of two large for-profit chains, ITT Tech and Corinthian, each with a history of failing to comply with federal rules. In February 2017, President Trump announced creation of a Task Force on Higher Education Deregulation to be chaired by Jerry Falwell, president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The move was redolent of deregulation themes promoted by Ronald Reagan. Falwell was also rumored to be Trump’s pick for Education Secretary.
Falwell’s Liberty University is a major beneficiary of for-profit education, the bulk of whose tuition funds derive from federal funding. The Obama action threatened the ability of for-profits to recruit students. Despite another major collapse, this time the Educational Corporation of America, DeVos reinstated the council’s recognition. That decision is under review by the department’s inspector general. One signal of the deep concern of Democrats was their opposition to a move by the Secretary to remove the IG, a decision that was thwarted.
Rep. Scott has made the reinstatement a pointed item in his agenda for the Education Department. Scott’s district in Virginia is only 182 miles from Lynchburg, with Richmond in between. It’s worth keeping an eye on that distance as Scott’s hearings may, once again, pose a threat to the Liberty University empire. DeVos and her conservative allies appear willing to engage in zero-sum politics to sustain her leadership. One conservative pundit offered that Education is a department that doesn’t have much to lose.