Betsy Devos and the Future of Public Education
Recent information leaked by a higher education organization, shows that the US Department of Education is initiating several Title IX regulations in an attempt to undercut changes made during the Obama administration. Spearheaded by Education Secretary Betsy Devos, the regulations would exempt religious schools and universities from complying with the gender equity law put in place to protect women and LGBTQ students from being discriminated against. By simply claiming they have faith-based objections to Title IX without any formal justifications for why, religiously affiliated schools will be allowed to go unchecked and unnoticed in their opting to discriminate against certain students, who under the new laws will have less access to resources before and after disciplinary action is taken up against them. While the news certainly raises concerns among many of us, it was an expected action for those who have analyzed the trajectory of the Department of Education under Betsy Devos, who was selected by President Trump to head the department for the next four years. Ms. Devos’s levying exemptions on religious schools is just one of many ways that she has shown her preference for private, Catholic schools, which make up a fraction of America's education schools. As a result, the implemented policies hurt the majority of American students who neither have money for expensive schooling nor representation under the current administration.
As the commander in chief of the United States, President Trump has the authority to nominate and appoint hundreds of representatives to various departments within the executive branch. While many of Trump's’ nominees and appointees to cabinet positions have received some form of backlash since his inauguration, Ms. Devos has faced particular criticism due to her unfamiliarity with public education and her lack of sympathy and exposure to the lives most Americans live. Ms. Devos’s father was the former CEO of Prince Corporation and was considered to be one of the top ten wealthiest men in America. As a result, the Devos family has a net worth of over $5 billion. Prior to the nomination as the Secretary of Education, Ms. Devos had no experience with education policy. Furthermore, Ms. Devos has never attended public school, and neither did her four children, now all grown adults. While these facts do not preclude Ms. Devos from serving as the Education Secretary, her privileged background, combined with her actions and statements during her time in office, call into question whether her intentions are truly to benefit the American people.
One of Secretary Devos’s major talking points regarding the betterment of American educational system has been supporting school choice for every student and their family. In theory, the system should allow greater equality by creating more opportunities and access to better schools. In particular, it’s meant to allow families of the lower socioeconomic ladder to have more options for their child’s education than just public school. However, as educational systems depend on funding from local and state governments, the proposed plan would require more taxpayer money going towards religious schools. With Ms. Devos’s proposal for school money vouchers, which provides families assistance to afford sending their children to private schools, public monies are getting redirected from lower performing public schools to well-established private, religious schools. By the competitive nature of school admissions that are already in place, it is clear under this rubric that certain students will fail to make their ways into private and religious institutions, and as the voucher system allocates education funds towards those schools, many children will be left in already failing schools with now less resources for each child.
This inevitable circumstance many American children, disproportionately black and under the poverty line, will suffer is not remedied by the fact that Devos, in speaking about her plans, is less than conscious of the emotions people have on the matter and the issues that have transpired due to her policies. In a March interview with 60 Minutes, Ms. Devos admitted she had never visited any of the underperforming and under-resourced schools in her home state of Michigan, which ranks 36th among states for its education system. Similar concerns were also brought up during her more public events and interviews. Opting exclusively to visit private schools on her “tour” to speak about policies, Ms. Devos shared her desire to “continue to advance God’s kingdom” through private, religious education. She also shared her support for ‘Focus on the Family’, an organization that has come under fire for considering public school curriculum to be “godless and immoral.”
Given the large support on the right to preserve the First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion, it is particularly hypocritical of Secretary Devos to effectively disregard those individuals who choose to, or cannot by virtue, attend religious schools. Through her choice to favor institutions that follow religious protocols, Secretary Devos has and is making a concerted attempt to punish families for not only their religious affiliations, but also such things as their race, socioeconomic background, and previous education. For our education system to improve, we cannot disregard a majority of our population. Public school education is a pillar of America as a newer nation, and until Ms. Devos considers those who do not participate in religious, private education in an equal light, we should not be surprised when further disparities in opportunity, outcome, and access arise.
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