Secretary of education confirmation threatens NOLA schools

The United States Senate voted to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, on Tuesday. DeVos has been a subject of controversy, like most of Trump’s Cabinet nominees. As secretary of education, DeVos must work with school systems, including New Orleans, in order to ensure that all students are properly served in a system that has not fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina. DeVos does not appear to have the right qualifications to perform as secretary of education. Going forward she must fully understand her responsibilities if we want students to have access to a proper education.

DeVos, a wealthy Republican donor from Michigan and a longtime supporter of conservative education reforms, has a tumultuous history with public education. She has supported policies that would benefit private and other for-profit schools and has encouraged the transformation of public schools into charter schools and has received significant criticism for her stances. Despite having no history of involvement in American public schools before, she will now be the highest-ranking member in charge of the system.

As education secretary, DeVos would likely enforce other policies that compose Trump’s platform on education. In addition to private school vouchers, she would also overturn a great deal of former President Barack Obama’s education reforms, which included reforms for federal student loans and policies involving sexual assault investigations. Enforcing Trump’s education policies would also involve tax credits for for-profit schools and homeschooling programs, which would divert money away from public schools.

Another concern regarding DeVos’ appointment is her lack of knowledge of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This federal law, passed in 1975, states that school districts are mandated to provide special education services to students with disabilities. This includes special education programs for mentally handicapped students or sign language interpreters for deaf students. When asked whether schools receiving any federal funding should be required to follow the standards set by IDEA, DeVos said it was an issue “best left to the states.”

Last year, several New Orleans families filed lawsuits against the Orleans Parish School Board, claiming that the way school funding is distributed discriminates against students with special needs. Funding has been diverted from schools that serve more students with special needs, to accommodate charter schools with low acceptance rates, which have very small special education programs. DeVos’ ideas about IDEA will exacerbate this issue. As long as she holds this position, it is critical that proponents of public education reform keep her accountable to improving our schools and helping all students regardless of the kind of school they attend.

Many school districts, including in New Orleans, face a great deal of struggles. For example, New Orleans public schools have a history of being greatly underfunded and mismanaged. That was before Hurricane Katrina. Since Katrina, schools in the area have continued to be neglected, leaving them in failing conditions with many underperforming students. While the formation of charter schools and the application of the Common Core curriculum have been attempts to ameliorate New Orleans’ poor educations system, it has not been enough to solve the problems with public education. Broader actions must be taken.

It is necessary for DeVos to recognize these struggles if she wants to succeed as education secretary. Hopefully, she can put aside her interests in private schooling in order to ensure that every student has an opportunity to obtain a valuable education.

Daniel Horowitz is a junior at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at [email protected].

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