Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Should Betsy DeVos Be Confirmed as Secretary of Education?

Should Betsy DeVos Be Confirmed As Secretary of Education?

by Jill Jenkins

On January 31, 2017 Betsy DeVos' position as Secretary of Education will be confirmed or denied by a committee. Should Betsy DeVos become our next Secretary of Education?  As a retired educator, I must say "no." Betsy DeVos has three shortcomings that would make it difficult for her to be an effective leader of the Department of Education: first, she has no experience in public education and little or no knowledge about the laws connected to public education; second, her approach to education in Michigan has been devastating; and third, she has ethical questions involving her investments in educational connected companies.  The Secretary of Education is an important position and should be held by a well respected person well equipped with experience and knowledge of the laws and problems public education faces.  It should not be a gift to billionaire who has used her money to foist her own opinions on education with her unlimited resources.

Betsy Devos' lack of experience and knowledge of public education and the laws connected to it would hamper her ability to be an effective leader of the Department of Education. She has never been a teacher, an administrator or served on the school board or worked in any capacity in public education.  She has never been a parent whose children were served by public education.  Furthermore, the evidence in her hearing indicate she lacks basic knowledge of policies and procedures connected to public education.   According to the Washington Post's article, "In Senate Hearings DeVos Stroked Activities Fears That She Will Ignore Education Civil Rights" by Emma Brooks, Mariah Ballngit and Nick Anderson on January 18, 2017,
when she was asked specific questions about laws protecting children with disabilities, she lacked knowledge about the requirements and felt that federal money connected to IDEAS could be transferred to whichever private school the parents selected; however, she felt the regulations connected to IDEAS should not be required of those private or charter schools.  The same article revealed that she seemed unprepared and ignorant of most federal laws and requirements on public schools.  She would not answer that she would support rules to protect civil rights of students or support the new laws protecting college students who are victims of sexual assaults.  To most of us in education, keeping our students safe is paramount.  Following the guidelines by the federal government to protect children with disabilities ensures that all children receive a quality education. Ms. DeVos does not seem to understand or care about that fundamental obligation in public education.

How did Betsy's voucher program improve education in Michigan.  According to the Washington Post's article, "A Sobering Look At What Betsy DeVos Did To Education In Michigan--and What She Might Do As Secretary of Education" by Valerie Strauss on December 8, 2016 , "parents had many choices but not many of quality."  The article went on to say, "in Brightmore, the only high school left is Detroit Community Schools, a charter boasting more than a decade of abysmal test scores and until recently a superintendent who earned $130,000 a year despite a dearth of educational experience or credentials."  Betsy DeVos' answer to low test scores is to eliminate the Common Core and its tests.  Using public tax money to pay for private schools and charter schools wastes resources for those who need it most and has not improved education anywhere. Public schools address the educational needs of students including those with limited English skills, Special Education students and those with emotional and behavioral issues.  In short, public education meets the individual needs of all students.  While Charter and Private Schools choose to educate the best of the best.  As a parent, I chose to send my daughter to private and parochial schools; however, as an educator I saw the necessity of keeping the tax dollars in the public schools to serve students of all educational and financial groups.

What does this billionaire have to gain from this position? Plenty. Although not all of her financial records were forthcoming according to The Washington Posts' article of January 24, 2017 "Betsy DeVos's Ethics Review Raises Further Questions For Democrats and Watchdogs" by Emma Brown and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel  her disclosures do not list the holdings in two trusts, but in the third trust there are some investments that raise ethical questions. "She has indirect stakes in Sextant Education with operates for-profit colleges through its parent company AEA Investors." This trust also holds interest in Discovery Communications which not only owns television programs, but sells educational materials to schools.  These are not small investments and they pay high dividends according to the article.  She has invested on million dollars in AEA which returns dividends to her from $100,000 to one million dollars yearly.  Furthermore, according to this article her million plus investment in Discovery Communications yields $50,000 to $100,000 in dividends annually.  Despite the ethic committee signing off on her agreement, it leaves doubt that her financial gains through these investments would not influence her decisions as Secretary of Education.  When considering the blight for-profit colleges have put on the financial system by preying on low-income students with promises of a brighter futures while burdening them with inadequate training and burying them with student loan debt, it makes me cringe that anyone connected to the for-profit private college nightmare might be considered with the highest position in education.