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One of the many responsibilities we have as students is to be informed citizens. It’s important to know what’s going on in the world, especially with today’s current political climate and our role in the future of America. Here’s what you should know about one of this year’s hot topics: Betsy DeVos.
On February 6, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the new US Secretary of Education. Since President Donald Trump announced her as his candidate for the position in late November, there has been a lot of controversy. Most of it is rooted in the fact that, besides donating thousands of dollars to charter school programs, she has not held any prior job in the education field.
Many former Secretaries of Education have had classroom experience as teachers, professors, and superintendents. However, Ms. DeVos has had no prior experience in education besides donating money to for-profit charter schools. In addition, neither she nor her children have ever attended public schools, which make up over 100,000 institutions in the country. In fact, she is pro-school choice, meaning she supports turning most schools into charter schools. While this does have its benefits, such as opening up a wider selection of specialized programs, it also bears some issues.
Charter schools often involve some form of application, be it a lottery or some kind of assessment test. Say the only school a student lives close to is a charter school and they have no other means of transportation other than walking. If they do not pass the application process to that specialized school, it could result in attending the school at a lower grade level or having to apply to another school further from home—proving quite problematic to families with limited means, as charter schools are not required to provide bus transportation for students who live more than two miles away. And this is just the tip of the iceberg; charter schools have also been criticized for only admitting students who would increase their state test scores, not providing subsidized lunches for low-income students, and more.
Ms. DeVos’s bias toward charter schools could also provide issues regarding federal funding. When Senator Tim Kaine asked her if she would insist upon equal accountability for all schools that receive taxpayer funds—whether public, charter, or private—she only responded with “I support accountability.”
In addition to charter schools, Ms. DeVos is a huge advocate for school vouchers. These vouchers use government money to pay for the tuition of private school for students who cannot cover the cost by themselves. While this may seem like a good idea, there has been a lot of controversy since the idea was first introduced. One problem is how it will affect public education, as well as where the money used for vouchers would come from.
President Trump’s proposed education plan calls for a $20 billion federal savings reserved for vouchers. This money would have to be pulled from all sorts of places, including an increase in taxes as well as budget cuts in other areas. With a Secretary of Education who is more in favor of charter and private schools, it is easy to see the money being removed from public education funding. If this plan is carried into action, it could very well damage the ability public schools have to improve themselves.
Another problem a lot of people have with Ms. DeVos is her apprehension to cut ties with Neurocare, a company that she and her husband Dick have invested up to $25 million in. This biotech company has been researching attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and is tied to the Windquest Group, the organization owned by the DeVoses.
She has also been evasive in responding to questions regarding her role in the Prince Foundation, a company owned by Ms. DeVos’s parents. It had some ties to anti-LGBTQ+, giving millions of dollars to groups that support conversation therapy. She was listed as the Vice President of the company for many years, but when questioned about it, she said it was just a “clerical error.” These conflicts of interest and her hesitance to completely disclose her economic involvement are disconcerting to many.
Since her confirmation vote, Ms. DeVos has touched on a couple main issues, including transgender bathrooms in schools. While in the end the protections for transgender students set in place by the Obama administration were rescinded, Ms. DeVos was opposed to the motion. She was concerned for the safety of transgender students and stood her ground against Attorney General Jeff Sessions. However, Mr. Sessions went to President Trump with the matter, and he took Mr. Sessions’s side. Ms. DeVos was put into an uncomfortable position and ended up signing off on rescinding the legislation stating transgender students could use the bathroom of their choice. Her discomfort was made evident, though, as she said it was a “moral obligation” to protect all students. She signed off on this by deciding the matter should be left up to the states and individual schools.
These are just a few items that have stood out in the first few weeks in Ms. Devos’s new position. There are still a lot of changes she can bring about to education, both good and bad. As high school and college students, it is important to keep updated on her policies because the decisions she makes and supports are going to directly affect us, the students. If you think there is a policy that could potentially harm the learning experience, make it known. On the other side, if there is a policy you believe will benefit the education system, show your support. Just keep informed, and always remember that you have a voice.