The Trump Cabinet’s War on Children: DeVos Strikes First (Part I)
At the close of last year, I wrote that 2017 might have been the worst year for children at the federal level in decades. I called it “The Undeclared War on Children.”
But now I am not sure it was really “undeclared.” It is increasingly out in the open.
First, there was so many terrible things going on in 2017, such as:
- the $700–870 billion in proposed cuts to Medicaid in Congress and supported by the President;
- the failure of Congress and the President to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) before its funding expired at the end of September;
- the opposition by the President and failure by Congress to pass Child Tax Credit improvements offered by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Michael Bennet (D-OH) for low-income children in a tax bill where corporations were receiving enormous tax cuts;
- the assault on the environment by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt;
- child poverty levels that exceed the rate for adults by 62 percent;
- a spike in the number of cases of child abuse and neglect;
- the rescission by the President of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order protecting DREAMers;
- the gutting of Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) by ideologues in the Department of Health and Human Services;
- the failure of our nation to deal with lead poisoning in places like Flint, Michigan; and,
- the backtracking on efforts to mitigate climate change, including the Administration’s withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Kids were under threat or attack throughout much of the year and victory was defined as having stopped terrible things from getting enacted.
For a very brief period moment in time earlier this year, things looked up for kids. In Trump’s State of the Union speech, he said:
. . .as President of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers and America’s forgotten communities.
“Greatest compassion and constant concern” are great words.
Shortly thereafter, Congress enacted and President Trump signed into law the Bipartisan Budget Act, which restored funding to both CHIP and the Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program and improved investments in a number of children’s programs. The signing of the bill on February 9, 2018, ended a lengthy 132-day period in which both CHIP and MIECHV had been allowed to expire, and it also lifted tight appropriations caps that have been negatively impacting children. This was an important win for kids.
Sadly, that win was fleeting.
Unfortunately, with the exception of the budget deal that Trump that quickly disowned, Ivanka Trump’s work on paid family leave and the Child Tax Credit, and maybe First Lady Melania Trump’s “Be Best” initiative, actions by the rest of the Administration increasingly feels like they have declared some sort of war on children.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Strikes First
The opening barrage in the Trump Administration was asserted by Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. She has openly declared war on our public schools while simultaneously promoting vouchers and charter schools. As the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss explains:
We now have an education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who is admittedly doing everything she can to promote alternatives to traditional publicly funded education. Many state legislatures are helping her with programs using taxpayer money to fund private and religious education. Supporters of America’s public education system are concerned about what they say is an assault on the most important civic institution in the country.
For example, her school voucher program would divert money away from public schools to private schools and undermine the right to an equal and accessible education for all students, such as compliance with Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) protections.
Diane Ravitch explains in the New York Review of Books:
Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos’s proposed budget for the US Department of Education is a boon for privatization and a disaster for public schools and low-income college students. They want to cut federal spending on education by 13.6 percent. Some programs would be eliminated completely; others would face deep reductions. They want to cut $10.6 billion from existing programs and divert $1.4 billion to charter schools and to vouchers for private and religious schools. This budget reflects Trump and DeVos’s deep hostility to public education and their desire to shrink the Department of Education, with the ultimate goal of getting rid of it entirely.
DeVos has also systematically undercut and rolled back other civil rights protections for minority, disabled, and LGBT students.
Under her direction, the Department has also rolled back guidance on campus sexual assault that included her top ranking civil rights official Candice E. Jackson saying, “. . .the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’”
She has undermined protections for college students for student loans and for-profit colleges.
On the issue of school shootings, DeVos created a School Safety Commission but told Congress that guns would not be a focus. In the first day of testimony before the commission, which DeVos did not attend, it took a student, Alessia Modjarrad, a graduating high school senior from Montgomery County, MD, to point out that the Administration’s approach was “misguided and insufficient.”
As Modjarrad added, “I would ask to please consider the possibilities that guns are the most important aspect of the purview of this commission.”
And to join the bandwagon in this Administration against immigrant children, DeVos testified before a House committee that she thought individual schools could decide whether they wanted to report undocumented students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “That’s a school decision. It’s a local community decision,” she said.
Although DeVos has since walked that back somewhat by acknowledged the Supreme Court (Plyer vs. Doe) had “settled” the issue by which “students who are not documented have the right to an education,” she has proven herself to be no friend of many of our nation’s most vulnerable children.
All told, for a department whose mission included a clear focus on children, under DeVos’s direction, the Department of Education has undertaken a truly disastrous agenda that fails our kids on so many levels.
If there is a competition for the Trump Administration’s Worst Cabinet Member for Children, Secretary DeVos is a tough candidate to beat. And yet, in this series, I will argue that two other Trump cabinet members are somehow worse.