State’s new Secretary of Education may not have schools’ best interest in mind

By Kim Kile

If you’re like me, you are still processing the recent election and what the results mean for you, both personally and professionally. I have been watching our new president’s cabinet appointees with interest, especially the new secretary of education, since that position has the most impact on my professional life. I have to admit, however, that I am not initially impressed with his selection.

Betsy DeVos may be a wonderful person, but when it comes to her leading our country’s educational system, I have my doubts about her ability to comprehend the ins-and-outs of our country’s public school system. It is no secret that she hasn’t earned a degree in any type of educational field and that most of her efforts have been centered on a private school voucher system. She has a passion for privatizing education and creating charter schools, and is a proponent of moving federal dollars away from public schools to support her preference of private and parochial education.

I recently read an article in The Washington Post that described two possible scenarios with the Department of Education under her leadership. Neither option is particularly appealing to those of us who work in public schools. Both of them start with her desire to make good on President-elect Trump’s campaign promise of moving $20 billion in federal funds used historically for public schools to block grants the states would use for vouchers. Some are speculating the money may even come from the current Title I fund, which is used to support our neediest children and their educational pursuits. If this change in funding is allowed by Congress, the article suggested she would then begin bypassing the public-school system in other ways, too.

The scenarios vary from that point forward, depending on whether or not DeVos receives carte blanche from Congress to make all of the changes education experts are speculating she would like to make. Regardless, public schools and the students they serve can expect to be an afterthought during her administration. And, of all of the things that worry me about her appointment, hurting our public-school students concerns me the most.

In all honesty, teachers and education professionals are used to an ever-changing educational landscape. In Indiana alone, we have changed state proficiency exams and school grade rubrics more times than we can count, moved to a school-choice system and created a merit-pay-for-teachers program in just the last few years. Adults who work in education have gotten used to rolling with the punches. Changes that affect the students, however, are harder to stomach. A year in the life of a student is an eternity, and changing the rules mid-way through a school career could have devastating results, especially if funding is shifted away from the system that serves a majority of America’s students.

I’m an optimistic person by nature, and I am certainly willing to embrace changes as long as they are made in the best interest of our children. I am concerned, however, that the only winners under DeVos will be those who can create the latest and greatest charter school at the expense of our public school corporations.

Kim Kile is the director of school counseling at Greenfield-Central High School. She can be reached at kimskile@gmail.com.