The potential nomination of Michigan’s Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education spurred controversy not normally seen concerning cabinet positions. Education is near and dear to the hearts of many Americans, which is why this cabinet position—more than nearly all others—deserves a tremendous amount of scrutiny. President Trump has promised $20 billion will be spent on education reform, making this position all the more important. What follows is the perspective of someone not simply shouting outrage from the sidelines, but of a teacher who will directly experience the policies implemented by whoever is charged with filling the position.
The first issue relates to the regulation of charter schools. This point holds a particular importance to me as I currently work in a large charter school network. One of the main points of emphasis for DeVos has been the deregulation of the charter school process; doing so would make it easier for a private company to start one. Proponents of this idea look to places like New Orleans, LA, as an example of a city that has done well with an increased presence of charter schools. The problem with the notion of deregulation in regards to charter schools is that it delegitimizes the entire “charter schools movement” that began in 1992. While charter schools have become an undeniable force in education, many unfortunately, do not succeed.
Instances of corruption, mismanagement, and negligence forced hundreds of charter schools to close over the years, some cases in the middle of the school year. An inability to keep close tabs on these schools will only increase these incidences, thus lowering the national standing of charter schools as a whole. I believe charter schools are a great asset to the education of America. One of the great American promises stems from the idea of freedom of choice and competition. Parents should be allowed to advocate for the best education possible for their own children; some parents feel charter and private schools meet these requirements. However, state and federal governments should do as much as they can to ensure that these schools are not taking students away from public schools without at least the promise that the charter school will not simply fold up shop in the middle of a school year, with millions of combined tax dollars allocated elsewhere.
In addition to the potential for charter deregulation, another issue DeVos champions revolves around the idea of tax vouchers. The idea is that parents receive a tax voucher that would normally go to public schools and apply them to admission to a private school. The theory is that students from disadvantaged backgrounds would have a chance to go to these schools with the issued vouchers going towards admission expenses. This system is designed to allow access to private schools that otherwise would not get the opportunity.
While these vouchers would undoubtedly help those in desperate need of a leg up, they would divert needed funds to public schools. Not funding a public institution because you do not use it is not a justifiable position. Tax dollars may go to fund roads and transportation, but the fact that someone chooses to ride a bike everywhere does not release them from the obligation to help pay for these public institutions. These vouchers should only be allowed for those who exhibit significant need, and even then should be properly vetted to ensure those funds go to those who truly need it. Parents should be able to send their children to the school of their choice, but that does not release the parent from their societal obligation that everyone else still has to follow.
DeVos stated she does not adhere to a “one size fits all” educational system, and I agree with her to a certain extent. Students in America should be allowed to enroll in the schools and programs that will best suit their particular needs. With that said, being in charge of a public school system means that she must do all she can to make sure that as many students can be helped under that system as possible. President Trump claimed he wants to “drain the swamp” and replace many of the existing Washington mainstays, yet placing a woman who has essentially been nothing more than a lobbyist at the head of America’s education system seems unrealistic and borderline irresponsible.
I absolutely love being a teacher. As a high schooler, I sat down and thought about what I wanted to do with my life. My first criteria was how much I would enjoy my job. I never wanted to be a person that viewed their job as some sort of inevitable drudgery that they were obligated to attend out of pure survival. My second factor regarded how much I could influence the world around me. Some of the most influential people in my life were my teachers and coaches. I wanted to have that sort of impact on the world, so I decided to combine my passion for teaching others with my fascination with history. I knew for years that this job would come with certain restrictions. Barring a winning lottery ticket, I will probably never own a Porsche or a vacation home in Newport Beach. I know there will be days where I will leave my home before the sun comes up and return before it sets. I will take work home with me, answer e-mails after dinner, and spend a decent amount of my winter “break” grading finals.
I accept these things and more because I am part of a privileged few that truly shape the future. I also accept all of these things knowing that I have someone in Washington looking out for the best interests of not only me, but also my students. DeVos may very well want what is best for education. I truly believe that she feels she is the right person for the job, as she could very easily wield just as much influence as a private citizen. She has experience as an advocate and a parent, but never as a teacher or administrator. Her intentions may be pure, but she is simply not qualified based on her experience. I despise people on both sides of the political spectrum that assume based only on assumptions that they know what life is like as a teacher. They feel they can make inferences about what is best for the educational system in spite of a limited understanding of what it truly takes to run one. While President Trump’s $20 billion will no doubt be helpful, simply throwing money at the system will not fix it. The person at the helm of the Department of Education needs to understand that of all the resources available within the borders of the United States, educated children are simultaneously the most important and the most easily impaired.
DeVos is hardly the first cabinet member to come under intense scrutiny. George H. W. Bush nominated Senator John Tower for Secretary of Defense, who was denied by a 53-47 vote. While the denial of a major cabinet appointee is not unprecedented, the senate needs to do the best they can to ensure that those appointed to major positions have the best interests of the nation in mind. The desire to drain the swamp should not come at the expense of filling the cabinet with under qualified individuals.
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