And, so it happened. With Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote and the tap of a gavel, Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the Senate to be our secretary of education. And, just like that, public education has been given one of the biggest hurdles to get over it has ever faced: a secretary with no public school associations or experience supervising and leading states in the quest for quality education for their students.
I have tried to avoid the hysteria I’ve seen brewing since her nomination and study the process objectively and so, today, I am going to outline why her confirmation is scary to me, a public high school counselor.
First, as our country’s secretary of education, DeVos is expected to lead the way in providing support for federal student loan and grant programs, as well as ensuring all students have their rights protected through existing federal legislative acts. As we learned during her confirmation hearing, DeVos has no experience with federal financial aid programs and was unaware that IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) was mandated federal legislation. Our most vulnerable students will soon be relying on someone who didn’t even know they were protected by the federal government.
In my role as a school counselor, I work every day with students who fall under the regulations of IDEA. It is my hope the advocates who are available to support families of special education students will be diligently following what is coming out of the U.S. Department of Education and giving schools a clear set of expectations to follow to support these students.
Closer to home, I am concerned that DeVos is setting guidelines and creating legislation that Indiana’s Department of Education will be required to follow. Given her penchant for voucher programs and charter schools, I am fearful that Indiana’s already generous programs in these areas will give way to not providing new funding for public schools.
I am also concerned that DeVos will blindly follow the directives given to her by President Trump, even if they go against what is best for education and our children. Her response to the question she was asked regarding his plan to remove gun-free zones in and around schools should have been a no-brainer. Instead of making up the idea that schools in Wyoming need guns to protect students from grizzly bears, she should have made it very clear that guns have no place in schools or around children. She would not have been the first Trump appointee to have respectfully had a difference of opinion with the president. But, by blindly supporting him instead of doing what is right for students, she made it abundantly clear she has no confidence in taking a stand that disagrees with his, even if taking his course is done at the expense of students — my students.
Finally, I ache for my daughter, a sophomore in college studying secondary education and chemistry. I am fearful that strong students like her and others will find DeVos’ confirmation to be yet another reason not to enter the field of education. Indiana already has a shortage of teachers, but putting someone like DeVos in charge sends a clear message that public schools are in for a long four years at a minimum. DeVos’ lack of understanding the difference between student growth and proficiency means teachers will have to work that much harder in the area of school accountability.
I am disheartened that the DeVos confirmation had to become such a polarizing and political process. It was clear during her committee hearing to anyone with educational experience that she was in over her head. Every senator received thousands of phone calls, faxes and emails asking them to vote “No” for the sake of our students and public education system, yet only two Republicans crossed party lines to vote against her confirmation. For that reason, I pray she surrounds herself with competent and strong under-secretaries who will do what is right for our country’s children and our system of public education.
Kim Kile is the director of school counseling at Greenfield-Central High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.