Senator Lankford Questions to DeVos Focus on OK Education Issues, Religious Liberty Protections on Campus

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s Q&A.

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today questioned Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the President’s budget request for the Department of Education for fiscal year 2021 (FY2021).

Lankford discussed with DeVos the swift action this week by the Department to correct a recent change to the Rural Low-income Schools Program (RLISP) that Lankford,  Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and other Senators raised to the Department yesterday in a letter after hearing from Oklahoma schools affected by the changes. The issue has now been resolved. Lankford also raised the issue of religious liberty and anti-Semitism on campuses around the nation. Lankford and Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) chair the first Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism, and Lankford remains a staunch advocate for preserving Americans’ rights to free speech and religious liberty. Lankford also reinforced his work on the 90/10 loophole affecting for-profit education institutions and federal funding for veterans.


On the federal Rural Low-income Schools Program in Oklahoma

(00:15 – 01:02) Lankford: Senator Collins, Senator Blunt, several others, and I sent you a letter about the rural schools formula. That is a very big issue in Oklahoma with a lot of rural schools there. Those schools were trying to do their best to be able to honor what they thought was the rule and to find out another rule may be different, they need time to be able to get the right data. I appreciate their ability to get time and the right data and not hurting those schools that as far as they knew were following the rules. I also appreciate the extension on the Title III grants for colleges to get a little more time to be able to apply. I have several in Oklahoma that are going through the Title III grant process, they needed a little more time, and they got it. I appreciate that very much.

On preventing anti-Semitism and protecting religious liberty in schools

(02:07 – 03:59) Lankford: I appreciate the work you and the Administration have done in dealing with anti-Semitism and trying to get a definition. We’ve had in the State Department a definition on anti-Semitism for a very long time. That was not extended into the Department of Education until the latest executive order on dealing with anti-Semitism and trying to get a clear definition across the education spectrum on that. I’d like to know how that is going and what you’re finding with that?

DeVos: Well Senator, that has become an increasingly important issue. We’ve seen more and more incidents on campuses across the country. I’m thankful for the President’s executive order to help clarify and spur movement in the direction to ensure students on campus are protected in both their free speech and their ability to practice their faith openly and without concern. This is protected in every way and we are committed to seeing that through. Where there have been cases of  civil rights infringements, we encourage individuals to approach the Department and the Office for Civil Rights is looking at those incidents.

Lankford: How is that going with all issues of faiths on campuses wherever it may be, are you dealing with other unique challenges that need to be addressed by us or do you have what you need?

DeVos: I think with some of the most recent clarifications and steps taken it does put the onus back on schools at the K-12 level to be clear about their process for if a student feels their rights have been infringed. It also makes clear that those schools have got to report those incidents to the Department of Education so we have full transparency into what’s going on.

On the 90/10 loophole

(04:18 – 05-16) Lankford: I have sent something to your office before, not asking you sign on at this point, but I want to keep your team involved. There are several of us who have worked very hard to be able to deal with the 90/10 rule on especially for for-profit schools and to make sure we’re very clear. This was something in statute a long time ago and there have been a lot of issues on interpretations on this basic issue of should a school have basically 100 percent of their funding all come from federal sources. We determined as Congress a long time ago 90 percent is the maximum they can do. Then there’s been this debate about VA funding and such on whether that’s federal or whether that’s something else. We’re trying to clarify that, we’ve sent over a copy of that to your office to be able to make sure that you have the opportunity to be able get some input on it. That’s a bipartisan effort that we’re trying to work through on the 90/10 rule and we would appreciate your engagement in the days ahead to be able to make sure we get that right. We’re not trying to box out any school, but we’re trying to keep the spirit and the letter of the 90/10 rule as we go through.