Opinion | Muftic: Betsy DeVos and her — not so hidden — agenda
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s proposed budget that would reduce the Department of Education by over $7 billion, is cruel and possibly racist-tinged. Her budget eliminated all federal funding for Special Olympics while putting in her budget $5 billion in tax credits for those funding vouchers for students to attend private schools. Public outcry caused Donald Trump to order her to reverse course on Special Olympics.
Other cuts in federal funds remaining in her budget are harmful to programs which have helped low income and minorities, including, a program that operates after-school programs for low-income kids. Cuts also targeted programs that provide professional development for teachers and provide mental health services. The cuts in assistance to mental health services in the light of recent horrific school shootings are particularly disturbing.
This was only a budget proposal and the Democratic-controlled House would have stopped it, but it is an indication of where she sees her priorities: find a way to fund private education by reducing support of programs for the most vulnerable, those with disabilities, and those from low-income families.
DeVos has a long established history of advocating taxpayer support of religious-based schools, private education, and charter schools. That may be music to Donald Trump’s Evangelical base and school choice advocates, but it strikes a sour note with supporters of public education and civil libertarians. In Michigan where her influence in shaping her favored education policy implementation has been extensive, test scores dropped in math and reading. While her banner is school choice, in Michigan that choice has been of poorer educational opportunities.
DeVos has clearly stated that she intends to interpret laws to suit her religious agenda. Her agenda has always been to get federal funding for religious-based education. The separation of church and state has always been a fundamental provision of the Constitution that forbids the government from establishing a state religion. Those opposed to public funding of religious-based schools cite this as a reason. DeVos’ way around this is to give vouchers to parents to use wherever they wish. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 split ruled in favor of a voucher program in Ohio if it went to parents, not to schools, had a secular purpose, and did not fund religious education.
In recent Congressional testimony, DeVos also was charged with racism since she is reviewing department guidance that protected minorities from unequal disciplinary treatment in public education. Rates of disciplinary action against African Americans are much higher for the same infractions as White students. DeVoss has cited a source that concluded that certain racial groups had more behavior problems, so they needed more frequent discipline. The question was not only would she permit treatment of African American students differently, but she cut the budget for enforcement of civil rights by $1 million. Critics of private education note that private schools can pick and choose who they admit and are exempted from federal anti-discrimination laws so long as they do not receive federal money. There are limits and permissions, however, that vary from state to state, particularly regarding religious preferences and sexual orientation.
Charter schools have a great deal of bipartisan political support. While charter schools are publicly financed and are bound by anti-discrimination rules and law, in practice some have found a way around that standard by making the admissions application process difficult for minority families. Minority students also have a record of more frequent expulsions. Charter schools have also been found to discriminate against admitting “hard” to educate kids with behavior problems, low achievement scores, and special needs by ignoring inquiries from their parents seeking admission. Often charter schools are administered by for-profit enterprises.
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