As leadership in D.C. undergoes a complete overhaul, whether for better or worse remains to be seen, recently confirmed Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education Betsy DeVos has been at the top of the list of controversial nominees. While she has been an overtly strong advocate of charter schools, she does not come to the position with any real experience or understanding of public education or how charter schools have actually hurt public schools. In the past, she has said that education reform should further the kingdom of God, and she, a billionaire, has donated tens of millions to the congressional senators who approved her nomination. The list of concerns goes on with financial ties that would be conflicts of interest — she has said she would sever such ties but accountability by the majority in Congress seems to be severely lacking — and the fact that she is a supporter of a voucher system that could end up leaving disenfranchised students even worse off at schools abandoned by well-performing students. Even more unsettling, the same day DeVos was approved for the seat, Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, R, introduced a bill that would abolish the U.S. Department of Education by Dec. 31, 2018.
With the president recently commenting that the state of California is “out of control” and that he would use defunding as a weapon to get the state in line, saying that people are worried is an understatement. When it comes to education, however, there are a few important things to keep in mind. First off, as for abolishing the U.S. Department of Education, the department was founded in 1979. And while we may be better off with it, it’s not as if it has always been a standard. Baby boomers grew up without it, so perhaps it’s not so far-fetched that we talk about this. Second, DeVos has stated that she wants to give more control back to states and local boards. That’s also not such a strange idea, according to Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Stanley Mantooth, who said in a recent phone interview, “I sincerely hope now that the education secretary is as good as her word” on that issue.
While Mantooth did not hesitate to vocalize his concerns about Devos’ lack of qualifications and her voucher system plan, something he feels could end up costing parents money that they don’t have for quality education, he relayed that current leaders in public education are primed and ready to keep standards high, standards that parents and students have come to expect. For some perspective, from 10 percent to 16 percent of California’s education budget comes from the federal government. Those federal dollars are for programs for students with disabilities, students in poverty and English as a Second Language learners. Mantooth said that while the U.S. Department of Education could very well be dissolved, these programs must go on, that it’s the “law of the land” and something would have to replace it. Although it feels as if we are on shaky ground right now, Mantooth is confident that there is no way these programs could just disappear.
At the end of the day, with all the uncertainty staring us in the face, Mantooth had a suggestion: We must remain committed to positive and pragmatic thinking.
“Regardless of what’s in play, we are always going to maintain high standards, whatever it takes,” he said.
As we continue to receive all sorts of news from D.C. and from the Leader of the Free World via Twitter, we are just going to have to see how things pan out. In the meantime, it’s critical to stay informed, hold your representatives accountable and … try and stay positive.