Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education under FIRE for…


Author: Michael Cantrell Allen B. West –

Anyone awake for the recent presidential election cycle — and the crazy division still rocking our nation as a result — will hardly find it surprising that President Trump is meeting some resistance with a few of the picks he made for positions in his administration.

The latest is Betsy DeVos, the president’s choice for Secretary of Education.

DeVos apparently made a few controversial remarks about programs available for students with disabilities. These comments have resulted in an ever growing online opposition to her nomination.

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As a mother of two daughters, Cassandra Rogers strives to set a good example of standing up for one’s beliefs.

The mother of a young daughter with special needs, Rogers decided to take action to ensure her daughters’ schooling wouldn’t suffer under a new education secretary.

Rogers began a now-viral petition calling on the U.S. Senate not to confirm President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Education, billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos. People who signed the petition say they take issue with DeVos’ stance during her confirmation hearing last week on programs for students with disabilities.

The petition states:

Ms. DeVos does not support the equal rights of students with disabilities to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education as outlined in IDEA. In fact, she has stated that she believes that the responsibility for the education of students with disabilities should be determined at the state level.

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The impact of such an action would be profound and according to the National Center for Education Statistics would impact roughly 13 percent of the student population. The students receiving special education services are among the most vulnerable citizens of this country and are worthy of the same opportunities for receiving an education that every other American citizen has. Without the provisions outlined in IDEA, many of those students would be under-served or lose their opportunity for an education altogether.

The petition, started a week ago, has reached 284,000 signatures and the total is still going up.

DeVos comments on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), according to Rogers, would affect 13% of the student population. IDEA supposedly exists to make sure kids who have disabilities have free public education just like other children.

The article outlines the exchange that started all the fuss:

During her confirmation hearing, DeVos was asked by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) if she believed that all schools that receive federal funding should adhere to the guidelines in IDEA.

“I think they already are,” DeVos answered, then was pressed to elaborate.

“I think that is a matter that’s best left to the states,” she continued.

As Kaine countered with the assumption that some states could be better to students with disabilities than others, DeVos doubled down on her opinion that IDEA is better left to the states.

“What about the federal requirement?” Kaine asked. “It’s a federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”

DeVos then began to discuss a controversial Florida voucher program that has students with disabilities sign away their IDEA rights in order to attend certain private schools. According to the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, parents who use voucher programs can waive their children’s rights under IDEA.

“I think all schools that receive federal funding — public, public charter, private — should be required to meet the conditions [of IDEA],” Kaine said.

DeVos then replied that she would be open to a further discussion on the matter.

US News & World Report had a different take:

Observers might also point to questioning on parent choice and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which came off as a serious wound for DeVos. Those exchanges made DeVos, and the choice programs she espouses, look indifferent to students with disabilities. DeVos should have been clearer, but her stance is more responsible than it appeared in the hearing.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., started by describing her concern that students who use state vouchers may have to waive their rights to special education services guaranteed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Hassan asked, “Do you think that families should have a recourse in the courts?” DeVos answered that she wants to ensure that all families can choose the school that best fits their student’s needs.

What sounded like an evasive answer was not, because Hassan and DeVos were working off of different premises. Hassan’s question assumed that legal requirements can effectively ensure disabled students’ needs are met, and that they should apply to private schools that receive federal funds as well as to public schools. DeVos has long championed choice programs that have worked for thousands of students with special needs by operating on a different premise: that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s requirements cannot always ensure that all students’ needs are effectively met, and those students deserve to use government funding to find better options.

The distinction here is between whether the law can ensure appropriate services for all students with disabilities and whether states can trust parents’ choices. DeVos believes the latter but not the former. She attempted to point out that the Florida McKay Scholarship program had a 93 percent satisfaction rate, compared to 30 percent for public schools, to explain that choice may provide better results for some kids than any federal law can deliver, but Hassan cut her short.

There are straightforward reasons why voucher programs require participating families to waive their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These programs give parents a choice between receiving services through public schools or using government funds for private service providers. The two sectors have different mechanisms to ensure satisfactory services. Public schools’ services must satisfy the law, not necessarily parents (though they often satisfy both). Private providers must satisfy parents, because unsatisfied parents will leave them to find better private options or return their children to public schools. If private providers were also subject to redress in the courts under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, potential legal battles would discourage many from participating, and therefore limit parents’ access to the options these programs are supposed to deliver. DeVos believes in state programs that trust parents to choose among private options when legal mandates fail them.

It’ll be interesting to see how this situation unfolds and how it impacts DeVos’ confirmation. Hopefully, she will be given an opportunity to clarify her remarks and highlight the many options have under alternative education over what is currently available.

[Note: This article was written by Michael Cantrell]

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