Senator Daines Must Vote No on Betsy DeVos

Charter School Science Class, 2016

The only good thing for Republicans about the hearing for Betsy DeVos as President Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education is that, for one day, Elsie Arntzen wasn’t the most clueless Republican education official in the country. In a potential cabinet filled with people totally unqualified for the jobs they will be expected to do for as long as the Trump Presidency lasts, DeVos stood out as a model of unprepared incompetence. Unfortunately, while Senator Tester quickly announced he would not support her for the job, Senator Daines seems eager to support her.

Senator Daines, if you care about public education, you simply cannot vote to approve this nominee.

A great deal of attention during the hearing was focused on Mrs. DeVos’s incredible assertion in the hearing that some schools should be permitted to have guns on the premises to defend students against grizzly bears. As asinine as that defense of guns on school campuses was, for this teacher it didn’t come close to being the most terrifying moment of the hearing.

Mrs. DeVos seemed to either be entirely unfamiliar with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the 1990 revision of federal guidelines which have been in place since 1975, or unwilling to commit to ensuring that all schools receiving federal funding would have to abide by its guidelines.

Once Kaine almost made sure that DeVos knew the law, she lamely asserted that it was “best left up to the states” whether or not the federal law would be followed. Her answer not only demonstrated a troubling lack of awareness about federal law functions, but the critical role IDEA and its earlier incarnation have played in the lives of kids with disabilities:

Before Congress enacted Public Law 94-142, or the Education of All Handicapped Children’s Act in 1975, schools were not required to educate children with disabilities whatsoever. Some states even had laws that allowed them to deny access to education of children with disabilities. Families were fortunate to find privatized education for their child’s special educational needs. Most children with disabilities were either kept home with family members to care for them, and children with more severe disabilities were institutionalized in facilities among those with learning impairments and mental retardation.

Leaving education for students with disabilities to the states is empirically proven to be a failure. Leaving students with disabilities to the mercy of corporate charters would be an abject moral failure. Muttering about the role of states is not a defensible position for the person who would oversee the federal role in education.

DeVos alsorefused to commit to the simple idea that all schools that receive federal funds should be held to the same standards of accountability. This, of course, is the ideal end game for the school privatization movement: to use often flawed accountability measures to demonize public schools and not hold private schools and charters to the same standard. She also seemed entirely unaware of the debate over how best to measure student success in schools. As the LA Times notes:

DeVos floundered trying to address this issue raised by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), clearly unfamiliar with one of the central questions in school reform. As Franken said in a deserved rebuke, “This is a subject that has been debated in the education community for years.”

As a teacher, I have certainly called on students who’ve not done the reading for class that day, and I know that look of fear. DeVos kept showing it, as her embarrassing lack of knowledge and frankly arrogant lack of preparation are grounds enough to disqualify her from the position she’s seeking.

But let’s talk about results, not just ideology and the pesky matters of federal law and treating children with disabilities like human beings entitled to the best possible educational outcomes.

There has been some excellent reporting in Michigan about the failure of the deVos-led charter movement. Writing in the Detroit Free Press, Stephen Henderson aptly described the outcome of the experiment to transform public education into the charter heaven some conservatives dream of:

In Detroit, parents of school-age children have plenty of choices, thanks to the nation’s largest urban network of charter schools.What remains in short supply is quality.In Brightmoor, the only high school left is Detroit Community Schools, a charter boasting more than a decade of abysmal test scores and, until recently, a superintendent who earned $130,000 a year despite a dearth of educational experience or credentials.

The New York Times explains just how low that quality is:

Detroit is not only the lowest in this group of lowest-performing districts on the math and reading scores, it is the lowest by far. One well-regarded study found that Detroit’s charter schools performed at about the same dismal level as its traditional public schools. The situation is so bad that national philanthropists interested in school reform refuse to work in Detroit. As someone who has studied the city’s schools and used to work there, I am saddened by all this.

There is no person more responsible for the failed “reform” of Detroit’s public schools than Betsy DeVos, and now Donald Trump wants to bring her destructive policies to schools across the nation. She’s worked against accountability for charters, funded efforts to minimize oversight of charters, and put ideology ahead of results every step of the way.

She’s not just unqualified; she’s a danger to American public education. As a proud graduate of one of Montana’s excellent public schools, Bozeman High, Senator Daines owes us a vote to protect our schools—and if he fails that test, he owes us at least a five-paragraph essay explaining how he could vote for such an unprepared, uneducated nominee.

Call Senator Daines today to ask him to vote for Montana students. 406-443-3189.

Do the right thing, Senator Daines.


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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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  • And so begins the battle of Charter Schools verses Public Schools. This shall be an interesting evolution to watch. What will the desire of the majority of parents? What power will the teachers unions present? What is the desire of the inner cities and less populated states?

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