Post-election, I tried to take a break from political “editors’ desk” editorials. Then republican Betsy DeVos was voted by Senate as the nation’s education secretary, with a 51-50 vote, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie. I have gone through the public education system from kindergarten through college, and both of my parents are educators in the Hartford, Connecticut public school system. Growing up, the majority of our dinner table conversations revolved around how the system was run, what benefited and didn’t work for these majority, underprivileged, students. And, Betsy DeVos, is not the individual for the job.
Although I have my optimistic hopes, I can’t seem to understand the rationale of anyone thinking she is the right choice. It could be argued that she does not need to have the experience of a superintendent, or principal, or schoolteacher, but has DeVos ever even been a member of the PTO? A room parent? A public school parent in general? Has DeVos stepped inside a public school? She has no experience with public schools whatsoever. She was a private school student and her children did not attend public school.
DeVos and her husband have been fighting for “school choice” for over 20 years. She has said that she would like, “educational choice,” a catch-all term for efforts in privatizing education and creating voucher programs. Essentially, this would divert public education funding to private, including religious, schools. In a nutshell, “school choice” would offer parents something called a voucher. This government-funded voucher is redeemable for tuition fees at a school other than the public school that a student could attend for free. The money follows the child, so, if the child no longer attends the public school, that public school does not receive the money and puts the tax-payer dollars towards private, for-profit and religious institutions of education.
Now, there are good and bad qualities to charter schools. A positive could be that disadvantaged students have the chance to broaden their horizons. There are many children who excel at one subject early on, and the opportunity to attend a charter school that is focused on that interest could be highly beneficial. On the other hand, these charter schools compete with the public schools and take from the public funds, hurting the students attending the “normal” public school.
While this charter school option could benefit a child who lives in an area with bad public school, it also provides a huge disadvantage to students with parents who are not involved or do not care about their education. There are many parents who, unfortunately, do not see the importance in school or are simply disconnected from their child’s life in some way. These students will not have the opportunity to access the charter schools. Not to mention, a voucher would not be enough money for many families unless it covered the entire cost.
I attended public schools in West Hartford, Connecticut where they offered amazing programs for special education students. Through these programs, and being involved with these students everyday since I was in elementary school, I have realized how important it is to provide programs for those with disabilities. The astronomical strides to provide services for theses students would be diminished in a voucher system, not to mention exclude this group entirely. The voucher system is not an option for students with disabilities because the majority of private and charter schools do not offer programs that these students need to succeed.
After so many years of her pushing for charter schools and school vouchers, it worries me that DeVos has put very little thought into opportunity in advancements for public education research. According to The New York Times, DeVos has put millions of dollars toward charter school opportunities. This single-minded effort will naturally lead her to ignore suggestions which would benefit progress in public education. The future of education will affect our children, and it is crucial to keep a close eye on Ms. DeVos.