Betsy DeVos, who was confirmed 50-51 in the Senate as Trump’s Secretary of Education, recently completed her eventful first week in office.
DeVos stated in her confirmation hearing that one of her primary goals as Secretary would be to encourage accountability, and decrease Federal control on school policy. She has also spoken of her plans to aid students in failing schools with tuition voucher programs.
This program would grant vouchers, certificates redeemable by the schools for federal funding in lieu of cash, to students in failing schools, this category to be decided by future accountability reviews, which would be used against tuition in private schools.
In one of her first actions as Secretary of Education, DeVos visited Jefferson Middle School Academy on Friday, February 10. Protesters assembled outside the DC school to bar her entry, causing her to leave until they dispersed, later returning to tour the building.
“I visited a school on Friday and met with some wonderful, genuine, sincere teachers who pour their heart and soul into their classrooms and their students,” DeVos said. “But I can tell the attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child.”
“The protesters’ behavior, I think, is a reflection on the way some seek to treat our education system today – by keeping kids in and new thinking out,” DeVos further said.
Her comments on the teachers were disputed by Jefferson Academy in a series of tweets, leading her to retract her statements in favor of encouraging independent teaching methods.
She later tweeted, “Great teachers deserve freedom and flexibility, not to constantly be on the receiving end of government dictates.”
Further controversy arose when the Department of Education twitter misspelled the late civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois’s name as ‘Debois.’
Their correction stated, “Post updated – our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo.”
More recently, DeVos signed a Federal letter, co-signed by President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions that overturned a policy on nondiscrimination laws that was created by the Obama administration.
The previous decision by Obama stated non-discrimination laws would require Federally funded schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender identity.
The policy does not specifically state that transgender students must use the bathroom of their biological gender, only that non-discrimination laws no longer allow them to use the one of their choice, allowing local laws and policies to determine how schools will resolve the issue.
DeVos was against the letter and policy decision itself, having been in a political struggle with Sessions over the matter until Trump weighed in, causing her to capitulate, but not, however before insisting a specific clause be added.
“All schools must ensure that students, including L.G.B.T. students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment,” the clause read.
Other policies still in the works focus on diverting more money to school choice programs, which would cut funding from many public and low-performing schools, with the current estimated amount of the grant being $20 billion. This funding then would be used at charter schools and other institutions participating in the school choice voucher system.