The tenure of President Donald J. Trump administration’s Department of Education has been marked by sporadic flurries of negative news coverage and national scrutiny. From Senate confirmation hearings to over two years in the position, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has represented the worst of corporate capitalism and its undemocratic, un-American crusade against public education.
Within the White House’s record-breaking $4.75 trillion budget plan that called for sharp cuts to domestic programs, the Special Olympics were singled out as one of the many programs of the Department of Education to be targeted for cuts. While the Department of Education as a whole confronts an overall 10 percent budget reduction, the proposed cuts eliminate specifically $17.6 million in funding to the Special Olympics.
After the smothering negative news coverage of the cuts and DeVos’s problematic congressional questioning of the proposed changes, Trump was forced to address and walk back the budget cuts to the Special Olympics. But, the 2020 budget proposal marked the third consecutive year of the Trump administration attempting to cut funding for education in America.
Congress has been forced to stand in opposition to the budget cuts year after year, but with the House controlled by Democrats, many are looking forward to publicly denounce DeVos’s policies through congressional hearings. Through the most recent questioning, DeVos backed her proposal to hire less public-school teachers by asserting that students would be better served if placed in larger classes, but she was unable to provide any research backing her claims when it was shown that her statements contrasted decades of education research which have strongly indicated that lower teacher-student ratios result in better academic performance.
DeVos would also refuse to directly answer whether she believed if it is alright for a school to discriminate based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Putting DeVos, who has time and again shown her inability to answer questions and her absolute ineptness in her position, in a hearing only results in headlines without real change.
While the record-breaking budget plan could not find the funds for the Special Olympics as well as special education programs, it did deem it reasonable to propose adding $60 million to the Charter Schools Program, which funds the creation and expansion of charter schools. Though the Department of Education suggested eliminating 29 programs that have “achieved their original purpose, duplicate other programs, are narrowly focused, or are unable to demonstrate effectiveness,” it proposed creating a new federal tax-credit program, which would allow for the allocation of public money for private and religious schooling.
DeVos has never attended a public school, taught in a public school, administered a public school, sent one of her children to a public school and spent much of her life behind the political curtain pulling at the privatization strings that undermine America’s school system. The former Republican Party chairwoman in Michigan championed the race to the bottom that the pro-school-choice movement to privatize education has been competing in for decades.
As a force behind public funding of private schools and the spread of the charter schools in Michigan, the state watched as the billionaire-turned-lobbyist built a dysfunctional landscape of education in which failing private institutions are rewarded by government for their problematic practices. It is no mistake that the system forged by a zealous champion of free-markets and privatized education would re-charter Hope Academy two years after the school ranked in the first percentile, the rock-bottom of academic performance.
Charters are unregulated education entities that are more segregated than public schools, with the Civil Rights Project at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2010 calling the charter system “a civil rights failure." Charters do not result in higher academic results unless they have terribly high attrition rates and control their enrollment demographics, according to the National Education Policy Center. Yet the government spends $400 million annually on charter schools.
Legislators must not bend to the destructive forces of education privatization, which goes beyond DeVos. Our nation’s educational foundation must not be driven by profits nor may it be allowed to discriminate. From student loans to sexual harassment on campus to LGBTQ+ discrimination, DeVos’s Department of Education represents the immoral and unstable path of education privatization.
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