On Monday, Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s nominee to run the Department of Education, will either be confirmed or denied confirmation by our elected senators.
The arguments against DeVos’ educational philosophy, rooted in the idea of school choice and marketplace dynamics, are endless and robust. That she has never stepped foot into the public school system in any official capacity as an educator, administrator, staff member, parent of a student, or as a student herself, should singularly disqualify her from getting the job. DeVos is a dangerous choice, and after watching the hearing last Tuesday, even devout Republicans who hold firm to the philosophy of school choice, should at least acknowledge that she is demonstrably unprepared and unqualified for the position.
Most of this is well-known by now and here in Utah, we are familiar with the arguments for and against the privatization of public education. But, what you may not know is how her philosophy and history toward moving public education to a school-choice model could be devastating for disabled and special needs students. Moving toward a voucher system and distributing public school dollars to that end, can strip school districts of their ability to provide essential services and interventions to our nation’s most vulnerable children - disabled and special needs students - many of whom do not get any other assistance outside of school, due to cost, lack of adequate insurance coverage, and other factors. As a mother to an autistic child, I would know.
Too many special needs and disabled children already don't get everything they need through the public schools due to inadequate funding, which affects everything from adequate staffing to daily materials. Stripping them of what little they do get would be catastrophic to their development and academic scholarship, not to mention it could fail to provide them with a free and appropriate public education according to their need, a right guaranteed to them under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), a law that DeVos proved in her hearing that she is either unfamiliar with, or is unwilling to enforce.
The philosophical move toward school choice will be debated at length and I can only imagine those debates will come to the forefront of education policy discussions in Washington with an all-GOP government. Throughout the coming conversations and policy proposals, we cannot turn a blind eye to the way the philosophy of school choice threatens special needs and disabled kids. Private schools, who would be paid via the voucher system, are currently not required by law to accept special needs and disabled children into their schools, and are not legally required to provide services to those students. So, school choice is all fun, games, and "healthy marketplace competition" until your kid can get discriminated against & not allowed to enroll because they're disabled.
School Choice can quickly turn into No Choice if your child requires special education services. If a child is disabled and cannot get admitted to a private school, but the majority of public education funding has been stripped from their local public school, leaving them unable to acquire essential services and interventions, where does this leave the child? In no-man’s land, with no resources to choose from, even though they were promised a “choice.” This is all the more urgent for special needs & disabled students of color and students below the poverty line.
If Betsy DeVos is confirmed and allowed to move on her vision for public education, the most vulnerable children in our cities and neighborhoods will be forced into deeper marginalization & vulnerability. This cannot happen. If we truly believe that we are a people who care for the marginalized and the vulnerable, for the least of these, then we mustn’t turn a blind eye to the devastating effects Betsy DeVos would have on special needs and disabled people around the country and where I live, here in Utah. We must call on all of our senators to reject her confirmation. If not for the fact that she’s grossly unqualified, then at the very least, because her confirmation would be devastating to vulnerable children. The disability community has been sounding the alarm on DeVos since her nomination, and we would all do well to listen. Because, when the most vulnerable suffer, we all suffer.