The Senate Education Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for U.S. education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos for Wednesday, Jan. 11. She is a mega donor to the Republican Party and a longstanding advocate of loosely regulated charter schools and vouchers, which President-elect Donald J. Trump advocated during his campaign.
She is a controversial nominee, one of eight targeted by Democrats for special scrutiny. ‘On California’ reached out to education policy experts of various political persuasions for questions that the Senate ought to pose to Mrs. DeVos. My compilation of their responses follows.
- You’ve been a strong advocate for charters. Nationally, only about 6% of students attend these schools. Leaving aside the question of whether charters have outperformed non-charter public schools, what are your plans to improve the non-charter public schools: improve the teacher force, build capacity, and strengthen leadership and teaching?
- Do you believe in adequate school funding? You have been a major supporter of ALEC, which has encouraged governors to cut funds for public education. Following the ALEC playbook since the recession, Indiana reduced funding for public schools which serve 93% of the children by over $3-billion while giving a $539-million increase to charters and $248-million increase for voucher students who represent only 7%. Many other states such as North Carolina have followed suit. Is this your plan for the nation?
- The federal IDEA requires states and school districts to provide all necessary services to students with disabilities, but federal funding to support these services has steadily declined, and there is evidence that spending on special education is encroaching on spending for other educational services. Should federal funding for special education be increased, or reduced? Should states and local districts be given more flexibility in how they serve students with special needs?
- President-elect Trump has pledged to allocate $20-billion of funding for voucher programs nationwide. Do you believe this is a realistic figure? If so, where will that money come from? Would you consider allocating Title 1 funds for this purpose?
- In your voucher plans would all religious sects be allowed to have a voucher school? If no, who would choose from among the sects?
- One of the critical roles played by the U.S. Department of Education is to protect the civil rights of children in our nation’s public schools. Among the kinds of issues that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has dealt with in recent years are charges of denial of services to disabled students and English learners, discrimination against LGBT students in terms of access to services and facilities, and charges of sexual harassment and assault on college campuses. What steps do you as Secretary plan to take to ensure that no students in any of the protected classes is denied the educational services to which they are entitled under the law?
- Last month, a coalition of human and civil rights groups signed a letter voicing their concerns about your commitment to protecting civil rights of all students, including LGBTQ youth. How do you answer the charge that your past support for groups such as Focus on the Family and the Family Resource Council raise legitimate concerns about your commitment to safeguarding the civil rights of all students? Do you believe that the government should help to create safe environments in schools for LGBTQ youth?
- In 2015, you made the following comment during a speech: “Many Republicans in the suburbs like the idea of school choice as a concept...right up until it means that poor kids from the inner city will invade their schools. That’s when you will hear the sentiment - ‘well, it’s not really a great idea to have poor minority kids coming to our good suburban schools.’ Although they will never actually say those words aloud.” What resources and oversight will your office provide to school districts seeking to desegregate their schools?
- Former Michigan state schools Superintendent Tom Watkins, a fellow advocate of charter schools, has said that in Michigan, “in a number of cases, people are making a boatload of money, and the kids aren’t getting educated.” The vice president of the state Board of Education cited the lack of charter school regulation that has led to “financial oversight and transparency” issues. On your website, you state clearly that you are an advocate of “strong accountability.” Yet, groups you are connected to, including the Great Lakes Education Project and the Michigan Freedom Fund, opposed legislation that would have increased accountability for charters in Detroit. Can you clarify your position on regulating charter schools, in that instance, and more broadly? What should regulation for charter schools look like, in practical terms?
- Over 1-million U.S. students live in isolated rural areas. How do your ideas about charters and choice help them?
You can add your own questions, or comments on these questions in the Comments box below.
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