So now we have an Education Secretary more concerned about fighting off bears than educating children with special needs. That, of course, is distressing. But I couldn’t help but be elated by the robust defense of public education that we have witnessed these last few days! After years of hearing about how public education is a failed experiment, it turns out that folks actually really love their public schools. The avalanche of emails and phone calls have certainly sent a message to Washington that people want to insure that their children can continue to send their children to a public school.
The good news is about DeVos is this. ESSA passed during Obama’s presidency, and it pushes accountability to the states. This limits the damage that the new secretary can do. Probably. We are in Trumpville now, and down is up and up is down. In fact, no sooner had DeVos been confirmed, did GOP lawmakers introduce legislation to abolish the Department of Education. (Since Jan 20th I spend half my waking hours wondering WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING!) So maybe her whole department is abolished and everyone can just go home.
But my biggest concern right now will be for vulnerable students who will now be shepherded by a woman who has never stepped foot in a public school. I have some concern about her enthusiasm for school vouchers. Vouchers are unconstitutional in Massachusetts but DeVos could try and set up an incentive program like Arne Duncan did in order to get states to sign on to the idea. Trump has promised 20 billion towards school choice. Now that’s a lot of money, and to be frank, Trump has promised a lot of things. But I’ve heard some rattlings that it could come in the form of tax credits (contribute to a voucher program and take it as a tax write off.) But already, philanthropy is in the hands of the charter industry, so I don’t know how much difference this would make.
I think what we really need to watch out for is making sure that Title I funds don’t become portable. Title I funds go to schools with high levels of poverty. If the funds become portable, they would follow a child even if that child transfers to a wealthy public school. People often move from cities to suburbs or they enter into Metco so that could have some real damage.
I am also concerned about Trump completely defunding Title I perhaps to fund his voucher program.
But frankly, it is hard to say what is going to happen next. Maybe he will issue an Exectuvie Order that all homeroom teachers will be replaced by spider monkeys. But what is clear to me is that we all need to be active at the local level because that is always where most of the education decisions are made.