As America takes its first steps into the Trump presidency, the new head of the executive branch has begun appointing people to various departments of government. One of his most recent appointments was the woman he hopes to be the next secretary of education – Betsy DeVos.
One would certainly hope that someone who was given such an important role in the nation’s government would be qualified, but if this election cycle has made anything clear, it’s that being qualified is no longer a requirement for political office.
Tuesday, Jan. 17, a confirmation hearing was held for DeVos. Students should know that her appointment to secretary of education could come with many consequences. Any mistakes DeVos makes will affect an entire generation of students if she is confirmed.
Many college students across the United States depend on loans or federal grants in order to receive higher education without incurring extensive debt. It is the responsibility of the secretary of education to distribute this money to students in need through Pell Grants and other forms of financial aid.
During the hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said that 150 billion dollars is invested into students each year by the federal government so that they can pay off their student loans.
Warren also said, “The secretary of education is essentially responsible for managing a trillion-dollar student loan bank.” The financial futures of an entire generation are dependent upon a well operated Department of Education.
To hold the entire future of a generation of students in one’s hands is no small task. It’s likely safe to assume that most people agree that someone with such responsibility should be experienced in dealing with programs like this.
So what experience does Betsy DeVos have?
“Mrs. DeVos, do you have any direct experience running a bank?”
“Senator, I do not.”
“Have you ever managed or overseen a trillion-dollar loan program?”
“I have not.”
“How about a billion-dollar loan program?”
“I have not.”
“Ok, so no experience managing a program like this. How about participating in one? Mrs. DeVos have you ever taken out a student loan from the federal government to help pay for college?”
“I have not.”
“Have any of your children had to borrow money in order to go to college?”
“They have been fortunate not to.”
“Have you had any personal experience with a Pell Grant?”
“Not personal experience, but certainly friends and students with whom I’ve worked -”
“So you have no personal experience with college financial aid or management of higher education.”
Betsy DeVos is a member of the aristocratic elite. She has a history of using her family’s considerable wealth to promote her personal agenda through politics. This is clearly not someone who knows the struggles faced by lower-class citizens fighting to make their educational goals a reality.
If DeVos lacks experience running a government loan program, then surely she must have some redeeming quality that makes her worthy of this position, right? Perhaps what she lacks in personal experience she makes up for by being extremely knowledgeable about the education system.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Al Franken asked DeVos for her opinions on the debate regarding proficiency and growth – a long-standing, well-known debate in the world of education. However, DeVos made it clear that she did not know the difference between these two terms when she confused the definition of proficiency with that of growth.
Despite being underqualified, perhaps DeVos’s redeeming quality is that she just wants what is best for students. However, she made it very clear that she will likely not make decisions that are in the best interest of the majority of students.
When asked by Sen. Murray if she could promise to everyone at the hearing that she would not work to privatize public schools or cut federal money from public education, DeVos refused to do so.
All schools that receive federal funding are expected to uphold certain standards provided by the federal government. When asked by Sen. Kaine if she would hold all K-12 schools who received federal funding to equal accountability under the law, whether public, public charter, or private, DeVos said that she did not believe that all schools should be held to the same standards.
This has the potential to cause major inequalities in the education system regarding the treatment of students.
For example, Kaine also asked if DeVos believed that all schools receiving federal funds should be required to uphold the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. To respond, DeVos said she thought that was a matter for each state to decide. This would mean that in some states, students with disabilities could be treated well, while other states could treat disabled students poorly.
Sen. Sanders also had questions for the nominee. “Some of us believe that we should make public colleges and universities tuition free so that every young person in this country, regardless of income, does have that option. That’s not the case today. Will you work with me and others to make public colleges and universities tuition free through federal and state efforts?” DeVos responded that it was an “interesting idea,” but nothing is truly free.
What about the simple matter of safety in the nation’s schools? When asked about the presence of guns in schools, DeVos said that she believed it was the right of the states to decide their policies for firearms on school grounds. She then cited an earlier statement from Sen. Enzi saying that guns may be necessary in some schools to “protect from potential grizzlies.”
Potential grizzlies. In case this wasn’t obvious, there have been far more school shootings than grizzly bear attacks.
A far greater threat than grizzly bears to a young student is the potential to become a victim of sexual assault. When asked by Casey what she would do about the current rates of sexual assault in public schools, DeVos was vague. It should never be unknown whether or not the national head of education will work to protect students from assault. Students deserve to know that they will be protected under the law and that their attackers will be brought to justice.
It is important for the people of this country to remember that their power as citizens comes from using their voices to fight for their best interests. Too often, average citizens disagree with political events, but they don’t use their rights as citizens to fight for what they truly believe.
If confirmed, Betsy DeVos will make decisions that will impact students for the rest of their lives. Are these decisions in the best interests of students?