OPINION: DeVos’ agenda for education takes shape

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Betsy DeVos’ contentious confirmation as secretary of education transitioned to a seemingly quiet tenure, yet recent tremors indicate the start of a more drastic shift in the federal government’s involvement in education.

As President Donald Trump declawed portions of the nation’s foremost federal education law Monday, DeVos’ impression on the Trump administration is beginning to take a more prominent position.

Among the rollbacks are the requirements for schools to test at least 95 percent of their students and use of measurement on the performance and quality of teacher preparation programs to determine eligibility for federal teaching grants. The White House said in a February statement that the voided rules imposed “new burdensome and costly data reporting requirements” and clash with the administration’s commitment to local control of education.

Charter schools, which are independently-operated institutions that receive public funding and have been promoted by DeVos, fluctuate in quality and suffer from regulations mandating performance assessments, as Jaclyn Zubrzycki reported in Education Week.

Only weeks after the Trump administration called for a $9 billion cut to the Education Department and a $1.4 billion investment in tax-funded vouchers to private and religious schools, it is not difficult to see these developments as in line with the motives behind DeVos’ career.

DeVos’ educational philosophy, which the Detroit Free Press’ Stephen Henderson called the center of “an ideological lobby that has zealously championed free-market education reform for decades” and has made Michigan a “laughingstock in national education circles,” is slowly falling into place inside the federal government.

DeVos, a wealthy donor of the religious right, has arguably drawn the most public criticism out of all of Trump’s cabinet picks.

Since Vice President Pence took the unprecedented step of breaking her deadlocked confirmation vote, DeVos has praised historically black colleges and universities (established during the most egregious throes of racial segregation) as “pioneers” of “school choice,” and said teachers at a Washington, D.C., public school she visited were “waiting to be told what they have to do.”

As an influential leader within the Republican Party’s education circles, DeVos pushed state legislators and education systems to create scholarship tax-credit programs. Through these “school choice” promoting initiatives, corporations and individuals can donate to scholarship funds at private and religious schools and remain untethered by the requirements public schools must follow for funding.

The maneuver enables states to skirt the constitutional challenges inherent in the direction of public money to religious organizations through the standard, run-of-the-mill taxpayer-funded voucher program. Changes like this are what DeVos says is a way to “advance God’s kingdom.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act, a bipartisan 2015 law that was among former President Barack Obama’s last legislative accomplishments, cut the number of punitive measures for low test scores. The reform also allows for the voluntary adoption of Common Core standards, encourages the availability of advanced classes and seeks to rein in student suspensions.

The repeals mark a significant retreat from one of the driving forces the Every Student Succeeds Act was built on: the promise of the accountability and equity reforms of No Child Left Behind, the predecessor to the current law.

“With this bill,” then-President Obama said at a White House signing ceremony for the law, “we reaffirm that fundamental American ideal that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live, deserves the chance to make out of their lives what they will.”

Trump and congressional Republicans have successfully used the little-known Congressional Review Act of 1996 seven times since January to overturn Obama-era regulations finalized after June 2016. Previously, the filibuster-exempt law had only been used successfully once, a desolate history Republicans are sure to make up for in the months and years ahead.

Alex Brase is a junior in journalism and mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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Contributing writer for the Collegian. I’m a senior studying journalism and mass communications and working on minors in political science and music. I also manage digital operations as a communications fellow with the Kansas Democratic Party; I do not report on or write about anything political unless it shows up in the opinion section.