Education in the Age of DeVos

by Dr. Brent Elder, Founding Member of the Tangata Group

And so it begins. With a barrage of controversial and polarizing Cabinet nominations, Trump further polarized the country and ignited national debates on everything from “pay to play” politics, to environmental pseudoscience, and the need for political experience in DC. During Senate confirmation hearings, educators and families of children with disabilities were shocked as they watch the confused, now confirmed, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos provide her testimony.  

When Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) asked DeVos, “Should all K-12 schools that receive taxpayer funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?”

DeVos’ reply struck fear into the hearts of educators and parents alike, “I think that is a matter that is best left to the states.”

What?! The now Secretary of Education for the United States did not know that the IDEA was a Federal law?

A concerned Senator Hassan (D-N.H.) followed up, “So were you unaware when I just asked you bout the IDEA that it was a federal law?”

DeVos responded, “I may have confused it.” I may have confused it.

If DeVos is confused on the federal law mandating a free and appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) for students with disabilities, what other critical issues in education does she not understand?

DeVos is an outspoken proponent of school vouchers. The issue with school vouchers is that they take money away from the public school system, namely Title I schools, where funds are used to support at-risk students. When parents use their vouchers to send their child to a new school, once the funds are used up, they are gone. So, if a parent uses their voucher to send their child to a private school, any fees (tuition or otherwise) not covered by the voucher lands on parents. This means that school choice is only for parents who can afford it (e.g., not low-income families). For parents of students with disabilities, IDEA protections would not apply to the private school of their choice, thus limiting their rights and school “choice.”

So, what will happen as a result of school vouchers? Parents with enough money and social capital will flee “failing” public schools leaving behind those who can’t afford protection to languish in the oppressive realities created by ill-informed education policy makers. For more information on the impact of school choice and vouchers, please visit: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education/reports/2017/02/02/298010/betsy-devos-threat-to-children-with-disabilities/

Brent C. Elder is an assistant professor in the Interdisciplinary and Inclusive Education Department at Rowan University. To see Dr. Elder's CV and a full list publications read: Dr. Elder's Publications