By Kat Riddler, Editor-In-Chief
What incumbent secretary of the department of education, Betsy DeVos, lacks in public education credentials (of which she has none), she more than makes up for with bad ideas, like the need for guns in school to guard against attacks by grizzly bears.
DeVos never attended a public school or state university, nor did any of her children. She does not believe in the need for public education and wants to funnel money out of public schools and universities and into private and for-profit charter schools—efforts which she spearheaded in Michigan.
There are, of course, good charter schools—but there are also many bad ones. They at least require the same level of oversight as public schools, especially those that receive public funding. But the system DeVos pushed in Michigan lacks sufficient oversight and ranks poorly.
So-called school choice advocates say they want to empower parents to be able to send their kids to whatever school they want and believe that a free market of competing private institutions will improve educational outcomes. Unfortunately, this is often a model for mass chaos. It also robs local school districts of valuable resources needed to educate the majority of students who would remain in public schools. After years of charter school development in St. Louis City, the public schools are still responsible for 22,500 students. We need to focus our attention and resources on improving public education, not abandoning it.
The DeVos nomination turned out to be one of the most polarizing of President Trump’s cabinet picks. For the first time in history, a vice president had to cast a tie-breaking vote to approve a cabinet nominee. Her nomination generated a tremendous outpouring of opposition from people all over the political spectrum who share a concern for the future of public education.
That opposition unfortunately fell on mostly deaf ears, with only two courageous Republican senators—Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—breaking ranks to oppose DeVos. Many citizens who had never before picked up a phone to call their senator received an education on just how difficult making their voice heard can be. They were often greeted with an recorded message: “the senator’s mailbox is full.”
On the other hand, DeVos knew all too well how to make a senator pick up the phone. Her family donated millions to politicians over the years. Our own Missouri Senator Roy Blunt received $33,000, which was possibly enough to secure his vote against the deluge of phone calls and emails from parents and teachers across the state.
One bright spot is that her proposed $20 billion-a-year voucher subsidy proposal for private schools is unlikely to survive a Congress more intent on slashing funding for programs and passing massive tax cuts. In fact, on the same day DeVos was confirmed in the Senate, Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY) introduced a bill to do away with the Department of Education entirely. His one-page bill, with seven co-signers, bluntly proposes that the Department of Education cease to exist on December 31, 2018.
The Department of Education has been in existence since 1980. It accounts for about 9 percent of all funding that goes towards education and represents about 2 percent of the discretionary spending in the federal budget. DeVos will be doing everything in her power to shift that public funding away from public schools and universities and into the coffers of for-profit and religious schools nationwide. Some in Congress will be doing all in their power to get rid of it altogether, but the end result for public education will be the same. From “no child left behind,” we seem to be entering the dark and dreaded age of “the forgotten child.”