Is Betsy DeVos Really That Bad?

Department_of_EducationThere has been a lot of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair over the nomination, hearing and subsequent confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. I haven’t been a supporter, for sure, but I asked myself when she was quickly sworn in, “Will it really be that bad? Does the Secretary of Education really do anything that’s going to affect my children in Madison?”

Right after DeVos’ confirmation, a Republican Representative put forth a proposal to dismantle the Department of Education.

Nothing to see here, I guess. I am happy to hear what she said in her first speech as Secretary of Education to her staff. But, there is still reason for concern.

The Dept. of Education Does What?

Shouldn’t we all want local control over our schools rather than the monolith that is the Federal Government? How can bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. know what Little Timmy in Iowa City or Pretty Janie in Amarillo need to know to be successful? These are commonly heard phrases from folks who want to dismantle the Department of Education. There is always chatter about our failing public schools and that the Federal Government has no business dictating what should be taught on a local school level.

Of course, here is what the department actually does.

While the Department of Education does push for certain standards, these are set-up, primarily at the local level. The basic standards are to get kids from K-12 prepared for college or for a vocation. That’s it; “to strengthen the Federal commitment to ensuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual.”

Equal educational opportunity is what stands out and this is where DeVos is concerning.

DeVos and IDEA

We already know Betsy DeVos was confused in her hearing when asked about IDEA. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act makes sure kids, like my disabled child, get an education. Simple. In her confirmation, DeVos couldn’t even talk about the 1975 law (which, ironically, Hillary Clinton worked hard to get passed) and how it works. When the possible head of the department that ensures this law is followed doesn’t know about it, her name should have been withdrawn immediately. She countered and wrote letters to many senators expressing her work with special needs families in Ohio and that she feels vouchers for private school should go to special needs families who want to take their kids out of public schools. This was a good move to calm many, but it’s not a good plan for special needs children.

When you remove your child from public school and get a voucher, you lose many of your rights granted in IDEA. So, your child doesn’t get the same educational standards as other students. In fact, the private schools don’t even need to follow basic guidelines for educating special needs students. They don’t need to come up with Individual Education Plans (IEP) and the teachers at these schools don’t need certification to work with special needs students.

Re-read that last paragraph if it hasn’t sunk in yet why vouchers for special needs students to attend private school is a bad idea.

DeVos and the Future of Education

What is really striking about DeVos and her supporters is the push for tax payer dollars to go to charter schools and private schools. This is how you destroy public education and how you destroy teacher’s unions; this is the whole goal. There are also the concerns that DeVos and those who support her want religion taught to everyone and they want your TAX DOLLARS to pay for it. These concerns rise from stories like this about the growing religious home school movement.

I went to private school my whole life. I was lucky to have parents who could afford it as well as pay taxes to support public schools. Not once did my parents degrade or malign public schools. My parents wanted me taught by Jesuits, the most liberal Catholics around. And, luckily, the Jesuits taught me that a public education is a right all students should have and our society should work as hard as we can to pay for an educated people. Two of my sisters were public school teachers for more than 30 years. I know what they went through to ensure a quality education for their students as school budgets were slashed every year.

It’s not that hard to understand.

I leave you with something a friend cobbled together as he was reading news stories yesterday and comment sections. This is why Betsy DeVos is bad for our country as Secretary of Education.

“The Federal role in education has not really ever been about curriculum or how local and state funding mechanisms are structured. It’s always been more about protecting the rights and needs of those who are not part of the center of the bell curve when it comes to their ability to access the education we are all guaranteed. The Federal role in education is mostly felt through the enforcement and funding behind things like IDEA (for children with disabilities), Title IX (for equal access), Title I (for students in poverty), and a handful of other programs. Betsy Devos is completely ignorant of these programs and has no interest in enforcing them. If your child is poor, female, or struggling with a disability (learning or otherwise), you can expect the Federal DOE to be most notable in its absence of support.

What Betsy DeVos is most interested in are the elements of education which are actually the purview of the states and local municipalities — curriculum, instruction, and funding mechanisms. What we can expect to see is a massive federal over-reach into states’ abilities to legislate their own curriculum (including the adoption and implementation of common core), determine their own mechanisms for determining which institutions deserve funding (including efforts to legitimize religious education as a state sponsored activity), and teacher evaluations and responsibilities.”

 

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