Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers -- although to varying degrees -- expressed frustrations with the proposed White House education budget in a hearing Tuesday.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appeared before the House appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, education, and related agencies, the first opportunity lawmakers have had to question her publicly since the budget proposal was released.
The subcommittee's chairman, Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, raised concerns that the Trump administration continues to request cuts that lawmakers had already rejected in the previous budget cycle. And Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, the New Jersey Republican who chairs the full appropriations committee, urged better communication between DeVos and her staff and lawmakers -- an issue he said he has also raised with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
"I’m concerned that we have sort of a disconnect here," he said. "It's hard to believe people have been on the job for this long and don’t have staff that understand how the system works."
DeVos told lawmakers that the budget proposal would expand Pell Grant eligibility to more short-term programs, in line with a theme of expanding access to alternative postsecondary pathways. And she said the budget request aligned with lawmakers' goals for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act by streamlining student loan repayment programs and reducing complexity in the financial aid system.
The loudest complaints for DeVos came from committee Democrats. Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the ranking member on the subcommittee, said she was "dismayed" that the request did nothing to make college more affordable and instead cut Federal Work-Study and campus-based aid programs.
And in a tense exchange, she blasted the secretary for a recent notice declaring that the federal government, and not the states, had authority to regulate student loan servicers.
"We want to drain the swamp?" she said. "These companies have a track record of predatory practices, of abuses, and state-level investigations have resulted in hundreds of millions in settlements on behalf of students."