Although President Trump has given us plenty to cringe at over this past week, from his outright denial of reality by claiming millions voted fraudulently in his own election to his unlawful ban of an entire religious group, which runs contrary to the First Amendment and religious liberty, it is his nominee for Secretary of Education who I find most cringe-worthy.
As a quick reminder, the Department of Education (DoED) serves as a federal resource in administering programs, collects data on school systems and enforces federal education and civil rights law. In addition to this, the DoED facilitates the largest education lending programs in world.
To oversee this department, Mr. Trump has nominated trust-fund baby and multimillionaire Republican donor, Betsy DeVos.
Having no academic or department-specific credentials, Ms. DeVos is best known for her anti-public school advocacy. She currently heads the American Federation for Children, a political nonprofit that advocates for the privatization of the public education system, according to The Atlantic.
This appears to lend credibility to the notion that Trump intends to defund our public school system, opting instead to redistribute public dollars to Wall Street-backed and –controlled charter schools. (And as we all know, Wall Street notoriously watches out for the average working American, putting a child’s education far ahead of profit.)
While I am personally opposed to charter schools as a viable, long-term and sustainable solution for the problems our educational system faces, I must concede there are few successful exceptions to the majority-failed charter school alternative.
Of those rare charter schools who have succeeded, we should learn from their success and do our best to replicate it in our public school system; however, what we must not do, as Trump and DeVos appear to want, is deregulate DoED federal and state oversight of charter schools.
In Michigan, DeVos’ home state, she and her family spent millions attempting to prevent Michigan’s oversight of charter schools, also according to The Atlantic.
Education is a great opportunity to success for children and young adults. As a society, we know it to be true that providing equal access to education is tremendously beneficial to our communities. Oversight allows our communities to ensure that our children have access to quality education.
However, DeVos and Trump have a strange and perverse agenda to remove public oversight of our communities’ education.
To add insult to injury, in her hearing, Ms. DeVos floundered and refused to commit to enforcing Title IX, the federal prohibition of sex discrimination in education, which also encompasses sexual violence, and the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which “requires public schools to provide children with disabilities a ‘free appropriate education’ and governs how states and public agencies provide various services to millions of students,” according to the Washington Post.
These two laws are in place to provide access to equal education to women, a part of which is to provide an environment free from sexual harassment, and students with disabilities. These are great civil rights laws whose merits are not up for debate that protect students.
Later in her hearing, Ms. DeVos stated, “I may have confused it,” when asked about IDEA for a third time. As a nominee for Education Secretary, one is rightful to expect that she would be knowledgeable about basic federal law regarding the department she seeks to lead.
For me, these issues alone are disqualifying enough; however, to my friends, some across the isle, who are skeptics of the Common Core standards, we just might have found an issue on which we agree.
Ms. DeVos’s position on the Common Core standards have been less than clear. She has previously sat on the board of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which supports and advocates for this set of standards, according to The Atlantic. Because the Trump team and DeVos have a committed to establishing “higher” nationwide standards, which is the Common Core standards repackaged and rebranded from what is known, critics of these standards might also caution at her.
Lastly, with questioning from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, DeVos admitted that neither she, her siblings, or her children required student loans from the federal government for their education. With many of you navigating federal aid and loans either from your personal education or from that of your children, one finds that the system is mediocre at best and defunct at worse, only finally becoming better over these past two years.
As a student who manages the federal aid and loan program every year, I am not comfortable having an Education Secretary who does not personally understand the frustration it can create.
Mr. Trump and his administration has over this past week made many amateurish mistakes and several authoritarian decisions. While these wrong decisions likely affect few in our community, a clueless and unqualified Secretary of Education can affect every single family in our community. Therefore, I implore you to call Senator Cassidy and Senator Kennedy urging them to vote against Ms. Devos.
Nick Smith is the Jackson Parish Democratic Party.