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Betsy DeVos: Principals Should Be Able to Focus on People, Not Paperwork

By Alyson Klein — September 26, 2017 3 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told a roomful of secondary school principals Monday that she wants to cut the federal red tape that she thinks is holding them back from serving students to the best extent possible. And she’ll encourage state and district leaders to give them as much autonomy as possible.

“I see you when you’re bearing the brunt of the regulatory burden that local, state, and federal governments—including the U.S. Department of Education, though I’m working to change that—put on you,” DeVos said at the 2017 Principal of the Year Institute, which was hosted in Washington by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “You should be able to spend more time focusing on the people, not on the paperwork.”

DeVos said she’s trying to give state leaders as much leeway as possible to implement the new Every Student Succeeds Act. And, in turn, she told the principals, she’ll urge state and local superintendents to follow suit and “give as much flexibility and decision-making power [as possible] to you and your colleagues across the country.”

The secretary also gave a shout-out to ESSA’s weighted student-funding pilot. That’s a sign that DeVos and her department may want to get started on implementing the pilot, something they haven’t moved to do yet.

Quick background: The weighted student-funding pilot would allow districts to combine federal, state, and local dollars into a single funding stream tied to individual students. English-language learners, kids in poverty, students in special education—who cost more to educate—would carry with them more money than other students. Some districts, including Denver, are already using this type of formula with state and local dollars.

The weighted student-funding pilot was DeVos’ only real nod in the speech to her highest policy priority: expanding school choice. Adopting a weighted student-funding formula could make it easier for districts to operate school choice programs, since money would be tied to individual students and could therefore follow them to charter or virtual public schools. But the pilot doesn’t have to be used for school choice.

DeVos generally stuck with the local control theme. The secretary said she’s working to slash federal regulations, that in her view, are tying school leaders’ hands.

She said she was having her team at the U.S. Department of Education “look at each and every federal regulation that affects you and identify every regulation that can be modified, or better yet, done away with to give you more flexibility to meet students’ needs.”

Not everyone agrees that federal regulations are a bad thing. Thousands of advocates, educators, parents, and others told the department recently that making big changes to education regulations could weaken civil rights protections for vulnerable students.

Watch the speech here:


After DeVos’ speech, JoAnn Bartoletti, the executive director of the NAASP, told principals that their work was more important than ever. The remarks were critical of some Trump administration policies, though not the secretary specifically.

“Our nation is embroiled in what some have called a ‘cold Civil War,’ with two sides polarized by not just their political beliefs, but by their contempt for one another,” she said. “White supremacists proudly occupying the streets of Charlottesville; the recent decision by the administration to terminate DACA and imperil 800 thousand young people--most of them our students; the decisions to rescind guidance that protects transgender student rights and to prohibit transgender persons from military service. These events and others embolden the forces that would demonize the ‘other’ in our communities and in our schools.”

Photo: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at the Council of the Great City Schools Annual Legislative/Policy Conference in Washington in March. —Jose Luis Magana/AP-File

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