By Toby Hollertz
On February 7th, the nominee, Betsy Devos, was formally confirmed to be the United States Secretary of Education. For the first time in American history, the Vice President, Mike Pence, was needed to give a tiebreaking vote for such a controversial nominee.
Devos is a wealthy Republican donor from the state of Michigan. She has no experience working in the K-12 public education. Both she and her children attended private schools. She also is a major force behind the voucher program initiated by President George W. Bush.
In Michigan, Betsy has poured countless dollars to politicians supporting charter schools. Proponents like Devos claim that more families will get to choose institutions that best suit their child’s needs instead of being forced into a failing school district.
During her hearing, Devos referred to vouchers. On average, $10,615 dollars are spent on each student per year in America’s public schools and each amount is referred to as a voucher. When parents choose the school that is best for their child, they use their voucher to pay. This payment method transfers the government funds from the public school to the private school. In other words, the more students that attend charter schools, the less money public schools will have overall.
Michigan’s charter schools are regarded as having the nation’s weakest regulations. Republicans are generally known for supporting less regulations at the expense of the consumer, worker, and the environment. After reviewing two decades worth of charter school records, the Detroit Free Press found that charter schools were performing at the same proficiency level as public schools.
I spoke with Professor of Education, Sarah Jane DeHaas, who focuses on special education. She is concerned with how charter schools address the needs of students with disabilities. “Public schools are more equipped to meet the needs of students with disabilities,” said DeHaas. As an educator, Professor DeHaas’ primary question is whether Betsy is “ignorant or indifferent to public education, or both.”
In Los Angeles, a former councilperson on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) school board claimed that “charter schools are inherently for ‘some kids’” and that “students who have fairly substantial special education needs…are the kids who typically do not do well.” The LAUSD has seen a large percentage of students attend charter schools over the last couple of years.
Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan State University, has seen a poor trend in public schools that lose students to charter schools. “What [researchers] find is that once a district loses six or seven percent of its students to charter schools, traditional public schools go into a downward spiral,” stated Miron.
Additionally, 90% of American children are currently enrolled in public schools, while only 10% attend private, boarding, and charter schools combined. Not everyone may have liked their time at public school but it seems to be a connecting factor that Americans are ready to defend. Our shared experience could be one of the many reasons for such widespread opposition.
Chris Loss, a historian professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, said, “[the massive opposition is] evidence of just how mainstream education has become – unlike more arcane policy issues like housing and energy, issues that seem kind of abstract to the average voter. Education is pretty immediate, it’s pretty visceral.”
The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association have both come out against the education secretary. The two organizations are unions that represent a majority of educational employees, Republican and Democrat, throughout America.
The 50 – 50 partisan vote had two Republican senators vote against Devos. The Republican senators also reported a large volume of phone calls from constituents against Devos. Democrats in an unprecedented move spent a full night boycotting the Senate chamber. Their folly attempt shows how strong of an opposition movement was built against Devos.
The future of public education during the next four years is uncertain. Its seems that the promotion of Betsy Devos and her ideas will eventually be more harmful to public schools and its students, especially students with disabilities or from lower income families.
Only time will tell if selecting Betsy Devos will be a good or bad investment for America and its children. Should an inexperienced candidate ever have been nominated simple because she donated millions of dollars to elected officials?
P.C. Creds – Yuri Gripas. (2-20-17). MSNBC. http://www.msnbc.com/…/2017-02-01t212004z_1851244525_rc1d77…