On Tuesday, February 7th, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as our new Secretary of Education. Her confirmation was not without controversy.
First off, this was not a landslide decision. It was a tie and Vice President Mike Pence had to cast the deciding/tie breaking vote. The resistance to DeVos came primarily because she has never worked in, nor attended, a public school. In addition, her children have never attended a public school. She is also a huge proponent of school choice, and this means - with the assistance of her amassed fortune of billions of dollars - she has spent the last thirty years advocating and supporting charter schools, school voucher programs, as well as for profit education.
My opinion of charter schools has been stated here repeatedly. While I agree with what they stand for (choice in education) I do not agree with the fact that too many are connected to corporate money. This, in my opinion, is having far too big an influence in the way we educate our kids.
During her senate conformation hearing Betsy DeVos was asked about the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). It wasn't just about the questions asked, but the fact that they came from Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. Hassan is well versed in the area of special education because her son has cerebral palsy. She brought a level of insight and understanding that Devos clearly lacked. In fact, throughout Hassan's questioning (which was insightful, heartfelt, sincere, and well stated) the glaze in DeVos' eyes grew thicker.
One topic Hassan chose to address was how some voucher programs make participants sign away their rights in order to qualify (she specifically sighted the McKay voucher program in Florida). This essentially means that students with special needs sign away their rights to access the services required through IDEA. These students typically end up leaving the voucher school due to poor or inadequate services - but that school still gets to keep the money provided for that student. The student now goes to a public school whose funding is being depleted through voucher and charter schools and she/he will not get the proper programming they're entitled to. Hassan's worry is that this practice will grow under the Trump administration. When pressed on this particular topic DeVos, again, was obviously clueless.
Right now 13% of the American public school population receives special education services. That means just over 6 million kids report to school every day and demand some type of special programming. To allow the confirmation of a woman seemingly clueless to the needs of these kids is mind boggling. Public education has experienced a paradigm shift due to IDEA - and this shift has changed every aspect of the way our schools are run (and I mean this in a good way).
Betsy DeVos is going to make mess of it.