Betsy DeVos, one of Donald Trump’s most controversial cabinet appointments has narrowly been confirmed as the country’s next secretary of education.
In fact, it doesn’t get much more “narrowly” than what happened during DeVos’ confirmation vote yesterday. After two Republican senators decided to listen to their constituents and break with their party to oppose DeVos, the Senate was left with a 50-50 tied vote. In a historic moment, the vice president was called upon for the first time in history to break a tied vote for a president’s cabinet nominee; Vice President Pence voted in favor of DeVos’ confirmation.
The confirmation came as a shock to the staunch opponents of DeVos, a group that was further energized after DeVos gave a mediocre performance during her confirmation hearing, unable to give strong answers to the questions asked by Democrats angered by the lack of time allotted to ask said questions.Opponents remain concerned that DeVos’ wealthy background, inexperience working in or dealing with public schools, and her support for controversial school reform ideals not yet fully supported by research will result in her effectively ruining education, especially public education, for years to come.
Here’s some relief from opponents who are fearful that DeVos’ untraditional background coupled with her high position of power will mean the end of progress in education as we know it. Here are four reasons why your very worst fears about DeVos’ influence on education will not come true thanks to the protections included in
The No Child Left Behind era demonstrated what happens when the federal government exerts too much control in education; this legislation was widely criticized and despite good intentions failed to meet its goals of improving low-performing schools and while it identified disadvantaged students failed to help them better succeed.
In response to this era of heavy-handed federal oversight, lawmakers came together and created the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) designed specifically to give more power back to the states and local governments.
Under ESSA, the secretary of education no longer has the power to incentivize states to adopt a particular set of standards or have the discretion to reject state plans that are in compliance with the federal law. In other words, so long as state plans include standards aligned to college coursework, implement assessments that have been reviewed and approved as defined by ESSA’s parameters and include indicators for each subgroup of students, there is nothing the education secretary can do to incite change.This includes promoting or even incentivizing school choice or voucher programs for states that do not wish to adopt them. “The Secretary may not ‘promulgate any rule . . . that would add new requirements [or new criteria] that are inconsistent with or outside the scope of the law,” ESSA declares.
If DeVos were appointed to education secretary during a different time, she’d have access to a much larger number of powers that would allow her to change education according to her beliefs. And given the fact that she has said she will interpret ESSA as Congress intended, standing-by its desire to transfer power back to local control, there’s no indication yet that she will try to do otherwise2. School Choice Was Specifically Excluded from ESSA