DeVos takes helm at Education Department. Will she steer funds, students away from public schools?

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addresses Education Department staff, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, at the Education Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

The secretary of education has never been a high-profile post, probably because the U.S. Department of Education is an upstart, created in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter and still regarded with suspicion by critics of federal overreach.

The ED — the Department of Energy already had dibs on the DOE acronym — is the smallest of the cabinet departments, although it has 4,300 employees and a $69 billion budget. In order of succession to the presidency, the ED secretary is way down the line, 15 heartbeats away from becoming commander-in-chief. Even the agriculture secretary stands closer to the throne.

Most people couldn’t name recent education secretaries. (John King Jr., Arne Duncan, Margaret Spellings and Rod Paige.) However, many Americans can now identity the newest one, Betsy DeVos. Her rambunctious confirmation Tuesday led to the vice president casting the first tie-breaking vote in American history to settle a cabinet appointment.

DeVos’ notoriety reflects the unprecedented public opposition to her nomination, opposition that intensified after DeVos’ desultory Senate hearing performance where she botched a question on special education, cited grizzly bears as a reason rural schools might need guns and refused to affirm the need for greater accountability of the growing charter school sector.

A surge of incensed calls overwhelmed Senate offices and clogged voicemails, forcing voters to get creative to be heard. In desperation, a Utah woman sent Sen. Orrin Hatch a ham and pineapple pizza with a note asking him to vote “no” on DeVos. All but two Republican senators endorsed DeVos, dismissing all the petitions, postcards and phone calls as the work of threatened teacher unions and their favorite culprit, “the entrenched education bureaucracy.”

So why the uproar over the appointment of a federal official whose impact on local classrooms is constitutionally limited and essentially rests with its checkbook?

The ED website even contains a disclaimer about its power: “Please note that in the U.S., the federal role in education is limited. Because of the Tenth Amendment, most education policy is decided at the state and local levels. So, if you have a question about a policy or issue, you may want to check with the relevant organization in your state or school district.”

A Michigan billionaire with a penchant for giving large sums of money to Republican candidates, DeVos brings no education background to the post, having never attended public schools nor taught in one. However, she has staunch allies who know her through her family foundation and her commitment to vouchers and school choice, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who said, “Millions of families share Secretary DeVos’ vision for disrupting a failed status quo that has denied too many children access to a quality education. ”

DeVos is likely to re-invigorate the school choice debate in Georgia, which has remained cool toward vouchers and judicious in its approval of charter schools. But there are a few burn-down-the-village-to-save-it lawmakers who will likely seize the moment to push for more exit ramps out of public schools, including taxpayer-funded vouchers and increased tax credits. Two bills have already been filed in the House that would triple the $58 million ceiling now on private school scholarship programs. Georgia taxpayers get a dollar-for-dollar credit if they make contributions to scholarship funds that enable public school students to transfer to private schools. DeVos supports such tax credits.

The polarization around her views and her confirmation did not escape DeVos, who greeted ED staff Wednesday by noting, “There’s no need to pull punches. For me personally, this confirmation process and the drama it engendered has been a bit of a bear. In all, seriousness, for many, the events of the last few weeks have likely raised more questions and spawned more confusion than they have brought light and clarity…Let us set aside any preconceived notions and let’s recognize that while we may have disagreements, we can and must come together, find common ground and put the needs of our students first.”

Reader Comments 0

30 comments
Jenna Milam Baird
Jenna Milam Baird

I think the bigger plan is to dismantle the USDOE and give education back to the states and locals.

taylor48
taylor48

I'm going to make a bold prediction.  Whatever Betsy DeVos does, whether it's expand vouchers or some other idea to expand "school choice", when she leaves the ED, the same posters on here who are complaining about the "failing public schools" now will complain about the "failing public schools" then.  Cause in their eyes, public schools will always fail.  Because they exist.  I really wish they would just admit that they want to completely dismantle public education, so their kids can only go to schools with kids who are exactly like them.  No need to educate special needs students, or students who don't speak English, or students who are homeless.  That's the way schools were in the 50's, and that's what many conservatives want today.

time for reform
time for reform

The Education Secretary DeVos that you seek to demean has a penchant for giving large sums of money to needy students and their parents. Her OWN money.

And charter schools ARE public schools.

BeeWry
BeeWry

@time for reform Publicly funded, privately run.  Don't make it sound like there's no difference.

Elaina Black Forney
Elaina Black Forney

I don't think the question is will she... more like how quickly will she ? #publicschoolsmatter

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

It is telling that trump has chosen someone who cannot answer, without help, very basic questions about public law related to education.  I wish she had been asked some basic "what if" questions, to see if she has any clue what can and cannot be done, and what the pitfalls are.  But her "handlers' would never allow that!


I have not been thrilled with our former heads of ED, but DeVos is so far removed from acceptable, she is off the screen.

Astropig
Astropig

Another liberal flippety-flop.It wasn't that long ago that opposing the duly elected president and his cabinet were "obstructionist" and "the worst kind of partisanship".In fact, it was just about 3 months ago,when the president was O and everybody thought that one of Bill Clinton's many,many old girlfriends was going to take his place.


Time for the Democrats to stop being hypocrites and "reach across the aisle" and let the administration govern.


Chuck-U Schumer
Chuck-U Schumer

There was no "unprecedented public opposition" to Secretary DeVos, only a ton of union cash squandered on a media war against the reforms she was appointed to carry out.

Part Deux of the unions' act will be to try and get our Secretary of Education to forget why she was selected by President Trump in the first place.

And I'm betting she's way too smart to fall for that.

SavTeacher
SavTeacher

There must be some confusion, Georgia is a right to work state.  In as much, we do not have teacher unions. We do not have collective bargaining.  We have associations, but we can still be fired for cause or no cause.  Get the facts.  Much of the opposition was grass roots.

Starik
Starik

@SavTeacher The teacher unions we don't have lobby and advertise effectively. If it walks like a duck...

E Pluribus Unum
E Pluribus Unum

@Starik @SavTeacher

I support private sector and 

public sector unions ,but I will 

not make negative comments

 about Secretary DeVos. 

The focus will stay on the issues

and the goal is to  prevent any

 policy that damages the viability

of public education for all students.

I expect constituents,city/state 

officials,and educational stakeholders 

to oppose any policy,or law( within the confines ofthe political system and the courts) that places at risk the viability of public education for all students. Most

 states and many school districts already have charter schools.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

"DeVos takes helm at Education Department. Will she steer funds, students away from public schools?"


Let's ask the exact same question a different way:


"DeVos takes helm at Education Department. Will she make it easier for students to choose which schools they prefer to go to?"


Starik
Starik

@AlreadySheared Schools they need to go to, if they expect to be ready for post-secondary education.

bu22
bu22

@AlreadySheared Or, "Will she steer funds and focus away from the adults working at public schools and direct them towards the students?"

day off
day off

Secretary DeVos: Please make a difference for parents saddled with failing schools and those otherwise in need of more choices in education. Don't compromise with the status quo.

The unions and the liberal elites are, and will continue to be, the enemies of reform ... to the bitter end.

Astropig
Astropig

@day off


Couldn't agree more. She doesn't have to compromise with the unions.Her confirmation proves that they can be beaten.They literally threw everything they had at her and the administration and lost.If she starts reaching out to them,she'll lose the support of people that fought the good fight and won.

SavTeacher
SavTeacher

@day off Georgia has no teachers' union. Georgia Teachers do not have collective bargaining.  Teachers welcome reform.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Since she is head of the FEDERAL Department of Education, and they only provide 7.8% of funding for Georgia Schools, it seems that the worst she could do is pull that 7.8%.  And even then, if Georgia schools did not accept any Federal money, for example, they would not have to comply with IDEA requirements, which are obviously expensive.  It might end up that schools have MORE money to teach with after the Federal money went away.

weetamoe
weetamoe

@SavTeacher @class80olddog I sincerely hope that you are not a teacher. My reason for my not very polite comment is that your reply reveals a severe deficiency in your critical thinking ability. And that ability is of supreme importance to Ms Downey

class80olddog
class80olddog

@SavTeacher @class80olddog  No, but we can choose a more efficient way of delivering "appropriate" education.  For example, SPED students should be grouped according to educational level and ability and instruction provided, rather than including them in regular classes where they are hopelessly lost.  Also, schools should not have to provide medical care (such as suctioning every five minutes) - it is more efficient to send a teacher to a medical institution to provide education than to require the school to provide both a teacher and a medical technician.

SavTeacher
SavTeacher

@class80olddog So if we drop IDEA requirements, should we also just put handicapped students back into institutions?  

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

@class80olddog Federal funding for education is categorical and noncompetitive. The USED cannot "pull" federal funding arbitrarily, and, outside of some title programs, states cannot simply "opt out" of all federal funding. IDEA is a federal law guaranteeing the constitutional right of disabled individuals to education and reasonable accommodations in the workplace. Education of special needs students is therefore both mandated and funded federally.