Over the past month, members of the civil rights community, parent organizations, and education reform advocates have followed the confirmation process of Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education, with great concern.
After an embarrassing confirmation hearing, we were deeply troubled when DeVos revealed only a rudimentary understanding of education policy and law, while demonstrating an unwillingness to tackle civil rights issues in education.
Unfortunately her confirmation couldn’t come at a more critical time for our education system. As of 2014, the majority of students in the public education system are students of color and it’s important that the leaders at the Department of Education are aware of the challenges these students may face and are willing to implement the policies that best serve them.
Based on a record of undermining public education and a disregard for civil rights issues, Betsy DeVos is not the advocate that we need to ensure that our children have access to a quality education that will adequately prepare them for future college and career opportunities. With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, much of the power held by the federal government over education was returned to the states, diminishing the role of the U.S. Department of Education.
However, the federal government still maintains important control over enforcing accountability and equity provisions in the new law. Although graduation rates and college attainment rates are continuing to rise for students of color, there is still much to be done. Accountability and equity language in the new education law is meant to ensure that states take action when students of color and other historically underserved students are falling behind.
In her confirmation hearing, DeVos refused to answer Sen. Tim Kaine’s (D-VA) questions on the role of the federal government in overseeing accountability standards for both traditional public and charter schools, simply stating, “I believe in accountability.”
Without accountability at the federal level, there is no way to ensure that the states are actually serving the students that need it the most.
Accountability across all types of public schools ensures that the zip code that a child lives in does not determine their educational success.
One of the most telling signs of the changes to come in the Department of Education comes from looking at DeVos’s own experiences with public education—or lack thereof. DeVos has never attended a public school and has spent much of her public life arguing against traditional public schools.
DeVos is a proponent for vouchers that would siphon funds from public schools and funnel them into private schools. For students of color, the consequences of a voucher program would be disastrous.
According to a study of the Louisiana voucher program, students that participated in the program saw a negative impact on student achievement. The problems that students of color face in failing public schools are due to school funding issues, and vouchers do nothing to solve this problem.
We should be investing in public schools, not allowing select students to leave on a voucher program while the rest languish behind
As we transition into a more technology and service-based economy, strong public schools are essential to ensuring that our students are adequately prepared to enter into the modern workforce. With the number of students of color only increasing in our nation’s public schools, it is even more critical that we address the barriers preventing them from receiving the best education possible.
For communities of color, a great education isn’t just a talking point, but is a necessity for changing their lives. Now more than ever, we need a champion in the Department of Education who will work alongside parents, teachers, and administrators to ensure the educational success of our children.
Unfortunately, Secretary DeVos does not appear to be such a champion.
With this reality, LULAC will redouble its efforts to work with parent groups, civil rights organizations, and our network of grassroots councils to ensure that our children are receiving the best educational outcomes.
Brent Wilkes is the executive director of the League of Latin American Citizens, which advocates for the political, economic and educational rights of Hispanic Americas. Follow him on Twitter@BrentWilkes. Follow LULAC on Twitter @LULAC
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