As we near the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, the country has been shocked by his choices for cabinet members. In education circles, there is much backlash around his pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
DeVos is a billionaire, philanthropist, and Republican activist from the state of Michigan. She has previously chaired various Republican Party Committees in Michigan. Although she is well known within wealthy political circles, she lacks experience in dealing with education issues on a national scale.
As Secretary of Education, she would be responsible for the overall direction, supervision and coordination of all activities within the department and would be the main point of contact and advisor to the president around all sorts of education policies and programs. This position basically oversees the education of the country, and DeVos is not seen as qualified for the position by educators across the nation.
A common attack of DeVos is around her support of taxpayer funded vouchers to send students to private and religious schools. Many teachers who oppose DeVos argue that her support for these programs would be a serious threat to public school education, as written in a letter recently published addressing DeVos from America’s public school teachers.
DeVos’s support for voucher programs will likely cause an increase in tension between charter school supporters and those who oppose them. As an issue that already causes heavy divide between educators nationwide, the DeVos appointment will only intensify this.
Many are concerned that because of DeVos’s record of supporting the expansion of school choice in Michigan through both charters and vouchers, she will push for there to be more options available for families. The increase in options will not necessarily mean an increase in better options for students, especially if she pursues an agenda to lessen oversight over schools, which she has a record of doing in Michigan. This inconsistency will increase tension and in turn, undermine the school choice argument.
Many educators support school choice and giving parents the option of sending their students to schools that best serve their individual needs. However, many also worry that the hateful rhetoric used by Trump and his supporters regarding immigrants, women and inner cities will automatically keep Democrats and people of color from working with any education proposals that his administration will try to pass. In addition, DeVos has said that education reform can advance “God’s kingdom,” a signal that she might not be interested in the separation between church and state. DeVos could promote using public funds in private religious schools.
The turmoil caused by Trump’s nominees is being felt widespread. Clearly, educators everywhere and education non-profit organizations that engage in policy and advocacy have work to do. The call to action is here, and we need to stand together rooted in the value that every single student is capable of achieving success if he or she is given the right support. There is no one size fits all model when it comes to any given student, and we need to empower parents and provide them with accurate information so that they can become effective advocates for their students. We need to demand accountability from our elected officials and ensure that they protect our students’ right to a great education regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.
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