Politics, The World

I can’t support Betsy Devos, and it’s not because I’m a Democrat

Public schools are simply not in any position to lose funding - not unless ALL students can afford the alternatives.

I’ve been working with a seventh grader over the past few weeks: an extremely polite, blonde boy who laughs at all of my corny teacher jokes and (according to his mom) watches way too much Food Network. He dreams of being a chef one day. He smiles and rolls his eyes when I tell him he’s “awesome sauce.”

When this seventh grader (a public school kid, like most of my students) first came to our learning center, he was reading at a second grade level, with some skills even bordering on first grade. Diagnosed with ADHD, depression, and anxiety, and falling behind more and more in school every day, he would cry and experience panic attacks in his mom’s car on the way to school every single day, terrified of inevitable failure. Every afternoon, he would ask if he could please just be home schooled.

One day, he confessed to me that he had been thinking about killing himself. I later learned that he had also spoken to his guidance counselor about suicide, as well as his parents. This was something that was constantly on his mind. The worst part? This scenario isn’t uncommon. What I do at my job every day can be described as the “emergency room” for education – the place where students end up when nothing else is succeeding.

But there’s a problem. Our services cost money. Psychiatrists cost money. Therapy costs money. Medication costs money. Private tutoring costs money. This child’s parents are providing him with all of the above, and he’s doing really well now, but I worry for the children who cannot afford these things. There are countless kids just like him who already cannot afford what they need; are we really going to defund public schools and take away what little resources these children have access to?

Public schools are doing their best to meet children’s various needs. For example, serving breakfast ensures that students are able to learn, so although breakfast is not technically considered education, it is a huge part of it. But they need funding to do that. They need resources. They need support.

Public schools are simply not in any position to lose funding; they are already lacking enough in funding that places such that private, individualized tutoring/rehabilitation centers like mine need to exist. But what about people that can’t afford it? Do we let them just fall through the cracks? Do we let the financial situation of each child’s family determine the value of that child’s education throughout their entire life?

What is Betsy Devos’ stance on education?

Ms. Devos is a long-time open supporter of school vouchers and school choice, which has had mixed results in the past, and charter schools, specifically religious ones (separation of church and state, anyone?). Vouchers are publicly funded scholarships given to low-income families to help cover private-school tuition, which seems nice in theory, but not so much in application. Devos has publicly stated that she is open to defunding public schools and using that very money for privatization.

In other words, let’s make rich people schools better, and to do that, let’s make schools that are suffering, suffer more. Trump claims spreading school choice across the nation will “level the playing field” when it comes to education, but what it’s really going to do, and what it has thus far been proven to do, is make the gap between good schools and lacking schools much, much bigger, ultimately hurting more students than it benefits.

Devos actually did enact a voucher system in Arizona. So, what happened?

Reportedly, 76% of the money given in Arizona’s voucher program went to children already in private schools. And public schools were weakened in the process.

Why not just improve public schools so that everyone receives a great education, as opposed to providing alternate, better choices that cost money and are potentially discriminatory?

After all, it is only public school that must by law accept any student regardless of race, gender, religion, disability, potential to succeed academically, etc. Private schools are required to do no such thing. If we improve private institutions and let public education suffer, children who belong to marginalized communities and disabled children will suffer the most.

Public schools are also statistically far more diverse; diversity lends to a better education by virtue of the fact that it lets students learn from one another’s differences and develop empathy for people who look different from themselves.

For-profit schools generally succeed financially, but the students don’t always succeed. Even if students do benefit from these private educations, Devos is still essentially saying she is comfortable with taking baseline opportunities away from some children and turning them into better opportunities for others, leaving the first group to suffer in a worse place than where they started.

I am not against the privatization of schools necessarily (although the idea of turning education into more of a business than it already is terrifies me), but I have to communicate one condition: if schools will improve when privatized, every single public school kid better have access to those new and improved private schools, otherwise this is straight discriminatory.

If certain children cannot afford vouchers, or do not live in a district where vouchers are offered (probably because they can’t afford to live in that district), that is not okay. Receiving a good education is, and should be, a basic human right.

What else happens when public schools have less funding? Teachers are going to be paid less. Because of this, many teachers will be unable to continue teaching, as it will no longer be enough to support themselves financially. So many full-time teachers are already working 2-3 jobs. When teachers leave, the demand for teachers will increase, and standards for teachers will decrease in order to meet this new demand. Schools will take anybody who is willing to work. I know this because it is already happening in underfunded schools. This is the reason organizations like Teach for America, designed to place qualified individuals in low-income areas, exist.

Betsy Devos on accountability:

Ms. Devos publicly stated that she will not commit to holding all schools to the same standards, which means she will be unable to ensure that parents who are being given “options” through her voucher systems are receiving the education they are being promised for their child. All that is guaranteed, therefore, is that the school will make a profit – everything else is up in the air.

Betsy Devos on free college education:

Devos, a multi-billionaire, publicly stated she will not support free college for Americans (or even free lunch for students) because “nothing in life is free.” 

Of course you don’t support it – you and the people you know don’t need it. And no one else matters, right? There is NO good reason to let hungry children starve. I can’t believe I even have to say that.

Betsy Devos on public schools:

Devos has flip-flopped on the issue of public schools throughout her career, working to put an end to them for years, and only now claims she is not against them.

How am I to believe her new-found feelings toward public schools are genuine?

Betsy Devos’ experience with public schools:

Devos has briefly visited one public school. That’s literally it.

Here’s my issue with this – everyone thinks they can have an opinion on education, but education is one of the only fields that is treated this way. Education, unlike so many other “serious” fields, is apparently something we all feel qualified to speak on without any training or expertise or a degree. I completely disagree with this viewpoint, and believe that teachers deserve respect. We respect doctors, don’t we? We don’t think we are qualified to tell doctors what to do with their patients. We don’t perform surgeries simply because we once had surgery.

So why do people who have never taught or served on a board of education feel as though they know what is best? This is one of my pet peeves, and Betsy Devos just took it to the next level when she was appointed as Secretary of Education. There are quite literally billions of Americans who are more qualified than her to serve in such a position.

Now, for anyone that has little to no experience with public schools (here’s looking at you, Betsy!), I suggest listening to NEA’s Lily Eskelsen Garcia to learn more about what exactly is happening in any given public school on any given day.

I share this because of one vital reason: it is imperative for everyone to learn that the sheer number and spectrum of responsibilities that public schools and, primarily, their teachers currently have is only increasing. Teachers do not just teach anymore. And it is imperative to note that while the number and spectrum of responsibilities public schools and their teachers are taking on is increasing, funding is not.

In fact, every full-time public school teacher I know goes above and beyond teaching; they stay after school for students (which they are not paid to do) and spend hours after school grading and lesson planning (time which they are not paid for) simply because they care. We simply cannot expect schools and teachers to be responsible for all of this while simultaneously defunding all forms of support for them and potentially decreasing pay.

Betsy Devos on Special Education: 

Ms. Devos refused to agree that all schools should, in accordance with federal law, be required to meet the requirements of IDEA.

This is probably one of the most disgusting things I have ever heard. How dare you claim to be an educator, or honestly even a human being, and not have the basic human empathy and compassion with which to prioritize and advocate for special needs children? Whatever my feelings were about Betsy Ross’ policies and views, this is where she completely lost me.

The crux of the ideology that is believed by Devos and her supporters seems to be this:

Some of us are better off than others and in a better position to receive educational opportunities, and that is because we are inherently better and we deserved it. Let’s do more for ourselves, because we deserve success.

Families who are in worse-off conditions obviously put themselves there, so let’s leave them hanging out to dry, it’s their own fault. If their kids suffer too, so be it. If those kids really deserve what we have, which they probably don’t, they’ll make it happen. It might be a million times harder for them because of the institutional barriers we’re putting into place, but whatever. At least we’re not poor. It doesn’t affect us. And if any of us have disabled children, we don’t need schools to offer services anyway, we’ll just pay for some private help.