Anyone But Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, is wholly unqualified for the position. DeVos has neither an education degree nor teaching experience. She did not attend public school herself, and neither did her children. She has no experience with the federal student loan program that put me and most everyone I know through college. Her confirmation hearing proved her to be ignorant (willfully or otherwise) regarding basic issues of public education. She’s not just inexperienced; she’s categorically unfit.

It’s not only her lack of experience that makes her a terrible nominee for Education Secretary; her past actions and positions are also troubling, to say the least. Under the guise of education advocacy and reform, DeVos led efforts in her home state of Michigan to implement vouchers (in which taxpayer money is used to send students to private and religious schools) and expand for-profit charter schools that operate without accountability. They have not proven more effective, most of them performing below their public counterparts. Make no mistake: this isn’t about “school choice.” It’s about dismantling public education, privatizing the system, and monetizing our children.

DeVos’s performance at her confirmation hearing didn’t do anything to allay my fears. When Senator Al Franken asked her to give her thoughts on the debate over proficiency vs. growth on assessments, she appeared confused. She refused to give a response other than “I support accountability” when Senator Tim Kaine asked if all schools receiving federal money (public, charter, or otherwise) should be equally accountable. Isn’t it obvious that all federally supported schools should be held to the same standard? Apparently not. I was most shocked, however, when DeVos couldn’t say definitively that guns have no place in schools, instead suggesting that schools might need them to protect against… grizzly bears.

All these things trouble me deeply, but as an advocate for equal rights (especially as they pertain to children), I’m most worried about how DeVos’s confirmation would affect these groups:

1)LGBTQ Youth: Although I was relieved to see DeVos distance herself from conversion therapy (a widely discredited and dangerous practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity), I worry that she won’t stand up for LGBTQ students and their families. According to the Human Rights Campaign, DeVos’s personal foundation has donated to Focus on the Family (which promotes conversion therapy), the Becket Foundation (which advocates for taxpayers funding discriminatory schools), and the Thomas More Law Center (which has challenged the constitutionality of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act).

LGBTQ students are frequently the targets of bias-based bullying in schools. Under questioning by Kaine, DeVos said she looked forward to “reviewing” the provision that schools receiving tax dollars comply with reporting requirements on harassment and bullying. How is that even something she needs to consider? Shouldn’t all our students be safe in all our schools?

2)Students with Disabilities: Perhaps most alarming to me was that when asked if all schools that receive federal funding should have to meet the requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), DeVos said it’s best left to the states. IDEA ensures that children with disabilities have the same opportunity and access to a quality education as their non-disabled peers. Upon further questions from Senator Maggie Hassan, DeVos revealed that she may have “confused” the federal law. Either she doesn’t care about protecting students with disabilities or she’s not familiar with a cornerstone piece of education and civil rights legislation. That’s bad news either way.

DeVos’s school choice advocacy also has the potential to harm students with disabilities. For example, Hassan expressed concern about private schools accepting vouchers on the condition that students waive their rights under IDEA. These schools then do not have to provide special education services. What happens then? Students with disabilities return to the public school and the private school keeps the money, leaving the public school with even fewer resources to serve them (after their budgets have been gutted to create charters and fund vouchers).  

If you’ve done the research, watched the confirmation hearing, and concluded, as I have, that Betsy DeVos must not head the Department of Education, please do the following:

1)Sign a petition. Here are links to a few:

http://edadvocacy.nea.org/nea/app/write-a-letter?1&engagementId=264253

http://networkforpubliceducation.org/2016/11/tell-your-senator-to-vote-no-for-betsy-devos/

https://actionnetwork.org/letters/tell-your-senator-to-vote-no-for-betsy-devos

2)Call your senators and demand a “no” vote. You’ll find contact information here:  https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/.

It will take a few minutes of your time, but the consequences of failing to act will be dire. Our nation’s children are counting on us. Make the call.