Questions for Besty DeVos from Us: Students

This week is confirmation week. In the education world Besty Devos is getting all the attention, as the Senate will have her confirmation hearing today. During this hearing Senate members will bombard her with questions, but at no surprise to us, real student centered questions aren’t likely to make the list.

We know where she stands on vouchers, we know she’s a big supporter of private schools, and we know that by joining the Trump administration she’s probably pretty spineless. All that stuff is obvious and isn’t pushing her to answer to the things that matter to us.

A lot of great inspiration for these questions from the 74Andy Rotherham, and more, but I pulled a few that student activists should be extra concerned with. Check out these 5 questions below we want to see her answer.

Does it matter how any of these “schools of choice” perform? How will you hold states to in turn hold them accountable?

We can’t help but get the sense that it’s all ideology all the time from Betsy DeVos. We get that she’s a supporter of school options. Her proposed $20 billion grant for vouchers and new charters shows us that. We actually agree — Families should have choices, but Betsy, your ideology that choice will cure everything has only gotten you halfway there. Those school options have to actually work (shocking, I know) for the kids that will go to them. Your track record on strong accountability for voucher programs and charters is non-existent. The research on voucher programs is mixed (and we say this agreeing with the theory behind it), and you’ve directly blocked charter school accountability measures in Michigan, a state with one of the most embarrassing charter laws in the country. EXPLAIN YOURSELF.

This isn’t a “set it and forget it” kind of thing. Been there, done that. It doesn’t work. Tell us about accountability.

Will you defend Department of Education Office of Civil Rights?

Many Republicans have a vendetta against the Office of Civil Rights because it works on things that they don’t seem to think are very important. You know, insignificant stuff like sexual assault on campus, or school discipline disparities. Even still the Office of Civil Rights is set up to defend families that are consistently screwed by the school system. Coincidentally, the same people that you want to give vouchers to get out of a failing school. Defend it. Keep it. Why the hell do I even have to say this?

How will you protect marginalized students from bullying like LGBT students and Muslim students?

Betsy DeVos has been associated with some groups that can only be described as insane. Like Focus on the Family that has pushed for “conversion therapy” for gay people. Seriously it’s 2017. 
 
It’s no secret that your boy Donny has made it the “in” thing to torment, threaten and bully Muslim-Americans. This isn’t funny. How will you use your agenda setting power to stop this and make ALL students feel safe in school?

What will you do with ESSA implementation?

ESSA gives almost all control over school accountability back to the states and the Obama Administration has finished the final regulations before DeVos has taken office. I wrote about a few highlights here. There are a ton of question marks that we care about when it comes to implementing ESSA. States are currently required to rate each school on A-F scale giving parents valuable information. Will you get rid of that? What about the “supplement not supplant” rule that prevents the state from financially slacking off and relying on Federal dollars to replace its own. Will you get rid of that too? When the states submit their accountability plan to you, what factors make you not approve a plan?

Undocumented Students

This is the elephant in the room. If we had to guess, given your friend Donald’s position on immigration, DACA, and undocumented students, we won’t like your answer. But this won’t stop us from making sure this is a huge priority issue. Undocumented students must be safe in public schools and universities as they make an investment in themselves AND our country. Will you actively block undocumented students from college? Will you allow immigration raids on public school campuses? What if a district declares itself a sanctuary district? Will you pull federal funds?

We can’t move forward as a country without the voices of young people fighting for progressive values. That is why it is absolutely crucial that we hear directly from YOU — the students affected and targeted by the next administration. Join us at Students Resisting Trump and let us know what specific issues you care about by taking this quick survey.

By Jonathan Hebert, SFER Policy Coordinator