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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

May 27, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Editorial: Betsy DeVos threatens public education system

It’s official: Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Education. Following a contentious vote in the Senate on her confirmation, DeVos’ confirmation fell to Vice President Mike Pence after a tie vote.

Qualifications aside, her abysmal performance during her controversial Senate hearing weeks ago made it clear that she was unfit for the position she has now been voted to fill. Her answers — and nonanswers — to questions about her stances on education reveal she not only does not know enough about education, but holds views that disadvantage students from marginalized backgrounds.

For one, it is clear that DeVos is not committed to upholding transparency and accountability in all schools — despite her constantly repeating, “I support accountability,” to specific questions about disparities between public and private schools like a parrot. Without any truly actionable goals to “support accountability,” DeVos’ statement rings hollow.

She has withheld voicing her commitment to enforcing a rule that would keep career-training programs accountable, for example. Career-training programs, in addition to for-profit colleges, have been shown to prey on lower-income students while leaving them with debt, low career prospects and low graduation rates. DeVos’ noncommitment threatens to be a slippery slope that would further the exploitation of poor students and bar them from an education that prepares them for the workforce.

The expansion of the charter school system in Detroit, primarily at the hands of DeVos and her husband, serves as a cautionary tale on how she could impact public education on a national level. In the Detroit school district, which has the second-largest share of students in charter schools in the country, public schools suffered a decline in funding while, at the same time, charter schools proliferated. Without the financial ability to improve infrastructure, public school students’ education suffers. This impedes certain students’ ability to succeed and attain higher education merely because of their circumstances.

During her Senate confirmation hearing, DeVos refused to say that colleges should be tuition-free through state and federal funding. What DeVos does not seem to realize is that the payment for tuition-free colleges would come from the richest in this country, rather than those who are struggling to put themselves through higher education. Her lack of solutions to make college more affordable — she simply said she wants to pursue this goal — in combination with her free-market approach to education, could hint at policies that would make attending college even more unattainable for low-income families.

DeVos’ confirmation is an affront to equal access to education in the U.S. and to the young people who are or will be entering into school. DeVos’ stances on education ultimately give preference to a certain group of students and families over others based on socioeconomic circumstances. Yet the values of education should not fit only a certain mold, but should be accessible to all people regardless of their circumstances.