“Flat Earthers”

President Trump has proposed budget cuts to programs and the departments running them. Amongst those departments impacted by Trump’s proposals is the Department of Education and it’s Office of Civil Rights. “ The DOE Department of Civil Rights function is to investigate discrimination complaints in school districts across the nation and create standards for responding to allegations of sexual assault and harassment.” Trump’s decreased budget would force cuts in departmental staffing making it more difficult to investigate complaints and also enforcing the law.

As the new Secretary of the DOE, Betsy DeVos proposes giving more power to states and communities in an effort to allow them to make decisions based upon local needs. This sounds good in the telling of it as people living in these communities would probably know what is needed for their schools. Often times what is ignored in state policy, is the favoring of wealthier districts over poor districts, majority citizens over minority citizens, the disabled, and those needing special education in order to learn. These are costly additions to a budget and local citizens do not like to pay taxes. Nowhere else can this be seen more vividly as it is in DeVos’s home state of Michigan where Detroit and Flint needs are played off against richer school districts. In her recent appearance in front of the Senate Education Committee, DeVos is proposing a “leap-of-faith” proposal of states getting the needs of public and private school educational correct without oversight or direction by the DOE.

In a “Return of DeVos-2” visit to the Senate Education Committee, she discusses along similar lines a proposal of allowing states to determine if private schools accepting publically funded vouchers can be allowed to discriminate amongst students. Again DeVos claims the states know better than the DOE about what is needed and necessary locally. In which case, why would we need a DOE Office of Civil Rights if states protected the needs of all students? That is sound reasoning; although historically, states do not protect all students and many fall through the cracks without the oversight.

Not liking the pushback from Democrats and those arguing back against her push to expand school of choice with no oversight, DeVos goes on to call those who oppose the program “flat-earthers” accusing those who find fault with and question her programs lacing vision and refusing to face the facts.” Some of her comments during this last meeting with the Senate Education Committee were quite revealing. Perhaps if during her nomination process, if these remarks she made had come out then, others might have voted against her. A Big If for Republicans . . .

Some of Betsy DeVos’s ideology:

1. Should states have the flexibility to decide whether private schools that accept publicly funded voucher students have the ability to discriminate amongst students for any reason?

Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.): One private voucher school in Indiana says it can deny admission to any LGBT student or a student who comes from a homosexual or bisexual family. With regard to federal funding, Rep. Clark posed a question to Ms. DeVos of whether she would tell the state (Indiana) it could not discriminate in that way and extended the question to include involved African American students.

DeVos: “Well again, the Office of Civil Rights and our Title IX protections are broadly applicable across the board, but when it comes to parents making choices on behalf of their students …”

Rep. Clark: “This isn’t about parents making choices, this is about the use of federal dollars. Is there any situation? Would you say to Indiana, that school cannot discriminate against LGBT students if you want to receive federal dollars? Or would you say the state has the flexibility?”

DeVos: “I believe states should continue to have flexibility in putting together programs . . . ”

Rep Clark: So if I understand your testimony — I want to make sure I get this right. There is no situation of discrimination or exclusion that if a state approved it for its voucher program that you would step in and say that’s not how we are going to use our federal dollars?”

Me: Going back and forth with Ms. Devos claims it was a hypothetical question, Rep. Clark countered with it not hypothetical and her allotted time ended.

DeVos: “I go back to the bottom line — is we believe parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children’s schooling and education decisions, and too many children are trapped in schools that don’t work for them. We have to do something different. We have to do something different than continuing a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. And that is the focus. And states and local communities are best equipped to make these decisions.”

Rep. Clark: “I am shocked that you cannot come up with one example of discrimination that you would stand up for students.”

Me: Except in many cases, states have not made those decisions and often times the decision-making dies in the legislatures who will not spend the money or make a political decision impacting themselves.

2. States should have the flexibility to decide whether students with disabilities who are using publicly funded vouchers to pay for private – school tuition should still be protected under the IDEA federal law.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-NY): In voucher and voucher-like programs in which public money is used to pay for private school tuition and educational expenses, families are often required to sign away their IDEA protections, including due process when a school fails to meet a child’s needs. Lowey asked DeVos if she thought that was fair.

DeVos: “Each state deals with this issue in their own manner,”

Tens of thousands of disabled students attend private schools in Florida. Florida requires voucher recipients to give up their IDEA rights.

Me: There was a time, you could not sign away your legal rights and protections. Individuals should not have to do this.

3. High-poverty school districts get more funding than low-poverty schools.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA): Proposed education budget’s Title I plan reduces funding to high – poverty schools, according to numerous experts. Rep. Roybal-Allard asked DeVos whether she believes that high – poverty school districts should get “more funding resources” than schools with lower levels of poverty.

DeVos: “Yes, I think the reality is that they do receive higher levels of funding.”

Rep. Roybal-Allard: “Just to be clear … you do agree that high – poverty schools should receive more federal resources than lower levels of poverty schools? Was that your testimony?”

DeVos: “Yes, I think that this is the case.”

Rep. Roybal-Allard: “They don’t.”

It is clear, Ms. DeVos does not know whether schools in higher poverty areas receive more funding or not. It is relatively certain most states and local government make no additional exception for schools in higher poverty area either.

Me: Betsy lives about as far away from Detroit and Flint as she can get. Detroit schools were under State of Michigan management and were released from it in almost the same fiscal shape as when they started. Uncertified teachers can instruct in Detroit as determined by the state.

4. The administration is not shifting money for public schools in the budget in order to fund school choice experiments.

DeVos: “It is. If there are cuts to public schools, and there is new money going to school choice, that can’t mean anything else.”

5. DeVos would not say whether private and religious schools accepting students paying with public funds should be accredited or held accountable in the same way that traditional public schools are.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI): On teaching practices, private schools taking public dollars claim students could learn how to read by simply putting a book in their hands. Asking DeVos if she was “going to have accountability standards” in any new school choice program.

DeVos: “States should decide what kind of flexibility they are going to allow.”

Me: I have seen similar happen in Michigan. Charter Schools may or may not offer a better education than a public school and often times the results are worse. The standard is not the same for both types of schools and there is a need for accountability. Ms. DeVos will not be bringing the much needed improvements to public education any time soon and may indeed hurt it more.

Five startling things Betsy DeVos just told Congress” Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post, May 25, 2017

The Impact of Cutting Public School Funding and How It Pays Out in Oklahoma Emma Brown, The Washington Post, May 28, 2017

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