The Senate is in the process of confirming a Secretary of Education, questioning Betsy DeVos, the candidate President-elect Trump nominated.
The Secretary of Education leads the Department of Education, guiding federal programs and disbursing resources to K-12 and postsecondary education institutions.
Public schools across the country, and especially in Colorado, have to make due with limited state, local, and federal resources. Under Republican Congresses, schools with high proportions of students from low-income families — known as Title I schools — are consistently underfunded.
As a Representative, I do not get to participate in the confirmation hearings; the Senate has that duty. But I have thought a lot about the nominees, and given my background in education — having served on the Colorado State Board of Education and since I am currently serving as a senior member on the House Education and Workforce Committee — I wanted to share with you a few questions I would ask Betsy DeVos.
How will you provide confidence and consistency for states as they implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)?
The Department is tasked with the important role of implementing the nation’s most wide-ranging K-12 public education law, ESSA. At its core, ESSA is a civil rights law, ensuring that every child, regardless of zip code, race, or background, receives a great education. Now more than ever, it’s critical that you provide assurance to states that the principles within ESSA will be upheld and implemented fairly, and further, that you will not pursue repealing already finalized regulations through the Congressional Review Act. Doing so could cripple key portions of the law and leave states directionless.
How will the Department of Education combat bullying and harassment of students who identify as LGBTQ?
Roughly two-thirds of students who identify as LGBTQ are bullied, and in many places, transgender students are prohibited from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. There is no place for bullying or discrimination, for any reason, in the American public school system, and all schools must be a safe and civil learning environment for every child.
The Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education has a responsibility to help prevent bullying; ensure all students feel comfortable at school by putting an end to discrimination; and through Title IX, protect students from gender-identity discrimination.
What will you do to bring down costs, support innovation, and increase accountability in higher education?
The average student loan borrower in Colorado takes on over $25,000 in debt. While the cost of higher education continues to balloon, students, parents, and policymakers still know too little about how colleges and universities serve students. The mish-mash of federal data systems should be streamlined to give a clearer picture of accurate completion rates, loan repayment rates, and job placement rates.
Further, the Department should continue to support programs that encourage innovation and lower costs, such as the Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) program, dual enrollment, and competency-based education, while also maintaining protections for students and holding colleges accountable for results.
Would you expand access to federal TRIO programs for beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program?
As Secretary of Education, you would be responsible for overseeing the public school system, and the wellbeing of all students who attend public schools, regardless of immigration status.
Over 750,000 DREAMers participate in the DACA program, and many attend public schools across the country.
The Department of Education has a responsibility to serve these students and should expand access to programs, like the Federal TRIO Programs, for students who are eligible for the DACA program. TRIO programs provide critical student support services through mentoring, academic and financial counseling, and tutoring, beginning in middle school and continuing through college.
What will you do to ensure that charter schools receiving federal funding are stable, high quality schools and not substandard fly-by-night operations?
As the founder of two charter schools, I have personally witnessed the power of public charter schools and how they can provide the tailored, specialized education not available at all traditional public schools. Successful charter schools empower educators, involve parents, and help close the achievement gap.
However some states, including your home state of Michigan, have a track record of too many poorly performing charter schools that even mislead and take advantage of students and parents. Unsuccessful charter schools like these bring down the entire movement and undermine meaningful school choice.
Under your leadership, the Department should continue its legacy of supporting high-quality public charters, improving the quality of charter authorizers, and promoting equity, particularly through its administration of the federal Charter School Program.