Connecticut educators have made this clear: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos let them down. We join them in looking forward to the new person President-elect Joe Biden will appoint to oversee education in our country.
May that person have experience matched with the best interests of public education in mind. DeVos’s background is as a philanthropist who invested in for-profit colleges.
Appointed by President Donald Trump in 2017, she pushed for an agenda more favorable to private education. She has sought to divert funds for public education to private institutions and supports vouchers for school choice.
The list of anti-education decisions by the education secretary is long.
Refused to honor student loan forgiveness programs at a time when debt is crushing.
Denied DACA and international students tuition reimbursement when colleges and universities closed early in the spring because of the pandemic, though they pay similar tuition as other students.
Proposed eliminating the entire $18 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics as part of a $7 billion cut in education programs last year. This included a 26-percent reduction in state grants for special education, a growing part of most districts’ budgets.
Claimed in 2019 that “students may be better served by being in larger classes,” which any teacher and parent would recognize as groundless.
Tried revoking the Borrower Defense Rule, which made private schools financially responsible for fraud.
And, most chilling, in response to the mass shooting at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018, DeVos suggested arming teachers.
That is one of the worst and most dangerous ideas ever proposed by someone responsible for education in our country. Teachers must teach, not pack weapons in the classroom.
U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, who represents the Fifth District in Connecticut, pressed DeVos in a hearing the next year, but the education secretary declined to say she would not use federal funds to train and arm teachers.
Unlike DeVos, Hayes knows education at the local level — she taught high school in Waterbury and was the 2016 National Teacher of the Year. In that role, she visited schools around the country and understands the challenges teachers face and what districts need. Biden said he would name a teacher as education secretary; Hayes would be a fine choice.
Not everything DeVos has done in office has been negative. Within an extensive school safety report following the Parkland shootings was a recommendation for social-emotional learning, modeled after the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement founded by Scarlett Lewis of Newtown, whose 6-year-old son Jesse was one of 20 first-graders killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012.
This is a critical time in public education. The pandemic is forcing hybrid classrooms or all-remote learning and exposing technology gaps among students. It is imperative to have a new federal education secretary who will help local districts in every way.