By Rylee Seavers | Staff Writer
Betsy DeVos’ recent confirmation as U.S. education secretary causes concern from educators all over the nation.
DeVos was confirmed on Feb. 7. Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate in order to confirm DeVos.
In November, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, issued a statement voicing his disapproval of DeVos’ nomination. Devos’s positions on school choice and vouchers, inexperience as an educator and her family’s investments in education have raised questions about her qualifications to serve as U.S. secretary of education, according to Weingarten’s statement.
“Under her leadership, we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families,” President Donald Trump said in a statement announcing his nomination of DeVos on Nov. 23.
The statement also said that DeVos is a “brilliant and passionate education advocate” and expressed her willingness to serve as U.S. secretary of education.
Throughout her confirmation hearing, DeVos was a vocal advocate for school choice. DeVos believes that parents are best equipped to decide where their children should go to school and that it should not be determined by zip code, DeVos said in her confirmation hearing.
“A blanket ideology that just says ‘just throw the doors open,’ and people just pick wherever they want to go [to school], there are some impracticalities to that. Space and buildings is one,” Program Director for the Doctor of Education in K-12 Educational Leadership Dr. John Wilson said.
Wilson said people like to have a choice in matters like education, but the limitations placed on schools based on factors such as facilities and teachers make something as simple as ‘school choice’ very difficult. There may be a great school in an area that many students want to attend, but that school is limited by the number of students that they can take, he said.
“I think [school choice] sounds really ideal,” Georgetown senior Audrey Hamlin, a special education major, said. “Unfortunately, the reality of that situation is that you have a lot of white middle class parents and families taking their children out of lower income school, which means that they are taking their tax dollars away from that school, and that school essentially ends up with a [lack] of resources.”
Hamlin said lack of resources leads to lower test scores and less funding. She said that, in turn, the higher income schools receive more resources and better teachers and become great schools, while the lower income schools that are often serving children living in poverty are unable to provide quality education to their students. Those students are in need of a quality education the most to escape poverty, Hamlin said.
DeVos’ possible conflict of interest due to her investments in education have also caused concern among educators. According to DeVos’ paperwork, released by the U.S. Department of Ethics, she has connections to several for-profit colleges and a company, Performant Business Services, Inc., which the U.S. Department of Education contracts to collect defaulted student loans. Some also see DeVos’ comment, obtained exclusively by Politico, that she will use school reform to “advance God’s kingdom” as a conflict of interest relating to her religion.
“As a Christian, I would like to advance God’s kingdom too, but I also recognize that, in our world of public education, it’s not there to advance a religion of any kind, whether it’s Christian or Muslim or any other group. That’s not [its] role,” Wilson said.
Hamlin said she is concerned that the initiatives DeVos has supported in education have only benefited students in higher income areas.
“[These initiatives] particularly have not benefited the students that, I think, need and deserve a voice. That would be students in low income areas, minority students, students of immigrants, my students – students with disabilities. She definitely doesn’t stand for them,” Hamilin said.
Hamlin also expressed concern about DeVos’ foundation in money and believes that DeVos has only been an advocate for people who don’t need advocates, for parents of students who are able to send their children to private schools. She is also discouraged by DeVos’ lack of knowledge regarding the Individuals With Disabilities Act.
“I have a hard time finding something positive to say about her. However, I’ve read that she has been visiting public schools. I hope that in visiting public schools, she sees what I see on a daily basis. I don’t think that one can look into the face of a child and choose to turn your back on that,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin said she hopes that DeVos will become an advocate for students in public schools by gaining experience in the classrooms.
At a meeting on Tuesday with DeVos and educators, Trump said that education is a priority.
“That is why I want every single disadvantaged child in America, no matter what their background or where they live, to have a choice about where they go to school,” Trump said at the meeting.
Trump also said that school choice has worked very well in areas where it was properly implemented and that it is an “amazing thing”. Trump congratulated DeVos on being successfully confirmed after a “very unfair” confirmation process and said that the real winner will be the children.
“I am very honored to have the opportunity to serve Americas students and i’m really excited to be here today with parents and educators representing traditional public schools, charter public schools, home schools, private schools, a range of choices. And we’re eager to listen and learn from you; your ideas for how we can ensure that all of our kids have an equal opportunity for a high quality, great education and therefore an opportunity for the future,” DeVos said at the meeting.