DeVos reveals plans for school safety panel, makes case for budget cuts

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday unveiled some details of a federal commission on school safety that she will be chairing. 

The commission, formed after the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., will comprise herself as well as the heads of the Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and Justice departments.

DeVos said the commission will, among other things, consider whether to ban gun sales to people under 21.

The disclosure came during a Capitol Hill hearing at which DeVos defended a proposed $3.6 billion reduction in her department’s budget.

DeVos has been pushing to increase public funding of alternatives to traditional neighborhood schools — such as charter school or private school programs. Critics say private schools get to choose which students to admit and may discriminate against minorities.

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., applauded DeVos for trying to upend the education establishment and push for alternatives to neighborhood public schools.

My gosh, the federal intrusion in education just hasn't worked and it's time to drain the education swamp.

- Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.

"My gosh, the federal intrusion in education just hasn't worked and it's time to drain the education swamp," Harris said.

Democrats were less supportive of DeVos' plans. The secretary faced sharp criticism from U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, of California, who complained that minority students were being disciplined more frequently than their white peers for similar infractions.

"Your head is in the sand about racial bias and racial discrimination," Lee told DeVos. "Madame Secretary, you just don't care much about the rights of black and brown children. This is horrible."

Lee's claim drew a sharp response from the secretary.

"There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination and we will continue to uphold that," DeVos said, adding that she was proud of the work of her agency’s civil rights office.

"Will you guarantee as secretary of education that that money is included with non-discrimination policies for those private schools?" asked U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass.

"Yes," DeVos finally said, after a heated exchange.

The chairman made a point of thanking DeVos for her poise when he concluded the meeting.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.