In a historic tie broken by Vice President Mike Pence, the United States Senate voted to appoint Betsy DeVos as secretary of education.
DeVos’ appointment has certain, unimaginable consequences for public education in the United States. The U.S. is already far behind our international neighbors in math and reading comprehension scores, as well as science and social studies. On a domestic level, thousands of students find themselves at a disadvantage because of the systematic underfunding of public schools due to programs such as school vouchers and school of choice, of which DeVos is a big supporter. These programs funnel students out of public schools under the guise of giving them a better opportunity, but in reality, schools lose money and resources and students are in no better a position.
Not only will DeVos wreak havoc on public school funding, she will have a direct hand in affecting anti-discrimination laws that protect student rights from elementary on through post-secondary school. During her appointment hearing, she stumbled and failed to assert a positive position on enforcing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a law that protects students with disabilities from being gamed by the system of public schooling. Additionally, the Department of Education is responsible for making sure that schools are following designated section 504 plans, a civil rights law that protects a student’s right to be treated equitably in the educational setting.
While IDEA only protects students until the age of 21, or their graduation from high school, section 504 plans apply to students in post-secondary schooling as well. Without the resounding support of the secretary of education, these laws, imperative for the wellbeing of thousands of students with disabilities across the country, are in significant danger.
Under former Vice President Joe Biden’s direction, college campuses began taking a closer look at preventing sexual assault on college students. When asked what she would do to continue his efforts, DeVos was stunningly uninformed. It seemed the only thing she could say was “we’ll look into it, for sure,” which seemed to be her go-to answer whenever a senator asked a question more complicated than her name. Working to improve the conditions of education will be Secretary DeVos’ No. 1 job, and from the beginning she seems woefully unprepared to do so.
It is not a coincidence that neither DeVos nor the rest of her family, including her children, have used any of the resources the Department of Education provides. Her family has donated millions to ensure that private religious schools become the only viable option for a good education, but remain out-of-reach for the majority of students who really need the academic support.
DeVos and her family have destroyed the public schools in the city where they live, which is only an indicator of what she will be able to do in her new federal position. Ultimately, a woman who is in favor of guns in schools and cannot conclusively prove she will enforce existing laws preventing discrimination, is not the person who should be in charge of the fight to improve public education. As the American public, it is our job to now fight to ensure that our students receive the best public education available, with or without our uneducated secretary.