As you probably already know, Tuesday January 7, 2016 Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie on the Senate floor to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. There was definite disappointment in this, but should we have been surprised? For those working against her confirmation the 50-50 tie in the Senate was thrilling to watch. The two female senators that broke party lines and voted against her confirmation, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) not only gave us hope for a future under Trump but empowered us to do the same.Many were upset when Mike Pence voted to approve DeVos, arguing that he should have listened to the thousands of citizens calling, emailing, and tweeting their senators urging them all to vote down her confirmation. At the end of the day, he did his job, and we should have expected him to.
As Vice President, he is the President of the Senate, meaning he was two jobs: break ties in the senate and certify the official vote count of the Electoral College. As Trump’s Vice President, is it so surprising that Pence voted along party lines and voted for DeVos’ confirmation? Did anyone really expect him to go against Trump and Republicans within the first days of his new role?
The concerns regarding Betsy DeVos are legitimate and the list is long:
- Her previously stated mission in education to “advance God’s Kingdom;”
- Her explicit approval of the “pay-to-play” ideology within politics, especially considering her millions of dollars in campaign contributions and saying outright “We (the DeVos family) expect a return on our investment;”
- Her continuing support of the “voucher system”, designed after Brown v. Board of Education, the “voucher system” was originally a system to allow white parents to take their white children to segregated white schools. The system allows federal money to follow said student to a public charter school they prefer, arguing for school choice – a phrase coded in racism, since the people that use it tend to choose schools without poor kids, black/brown/tan kids, or disabled kids;
- Her role as a leader of the Office of Civil Rights, in control of “budgeting, staffing and prioritization” meaning the concern is that she will not allocate funds, staff or prioritize the civil rights of every student;
- Her understanding of gun safety in school zones: when questioned by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, she cited guns may be necessary in places like Wyoming due to fear of grizzly bears – to react this way to the Senator of the state that suffered a catastrophic loss at Sandy Hook was a slap in the face to gun safety advocates;
The list goes on and on, however kids – don’t lose hope!
The outpour of activism during this election season, as well as, during the early weeks of Trump’s presidency has been inspiring to many. However, the work just keeps on coming for those concerned with Trump’s administration, seen in the varying protests, rallies and campaigns against him.
Some things to remember, to calm all our nerves: Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education does not work unilaterally, and still requires a lot of approval from Senate to overhaul our public school system. ESSA, Every Student Succeeds Act, gives us a lot of silver linings. ESSA protects us against the voucher program by excluding it, meaning DeVos cannot prioritize private/charter schools and cannot close public schools by refusing to fund them.
Also, ESSA requires states to categorize students with specific needs, such as students living in homelessness, minority students, disabled students, or those learning to speak English – meaning these students will still be acknowledged as needing services to succeed fairly. However, DeVos does have control over federal grants, which many schools from all levels of education survive off of. The concern is that she could prioritize traditional Christian schools, since she admitted she wants to “advance God’s kingdom” within public education.
The important thing to do is to stay motivated, empowered, and LOUD. Some basic suggestions include working on every local level you can: go to every PTA meeting and stand up for your children, go to city council or town hall meetings and stand up for your schools and your educators, consider joining political parties/campaigns in your area or running for local office. Also, consider donating time, money and energy to some of the groups working for public schools and children:
- Donors Choose is a “crowdfund” style platform to support classroom projects and teachers, such as getting computers, going on field trips, or fixing equipment.
- No Kid Hungry is a nonprofit that helps “feed American schoolchildren so they can stay full and focused in the classroom”
- Kids in Need Foundation is another nonprofit which provides thousands of backpacks filled with school supplies for students in need
- Did I mention…VOTE! There are 50 Senators up for reelection during the midterms, so call them, email them, go to their offices, go to all their rallies and vocalize your concerns, and let them know they need to earn your vote and protect your community and schools
At the end of the day it may be frightening that DeVos was confirmed and how she could affect the public school system is vast but it is not unlimited. Remember local and vocal citizens make the biggest difference in policy! If this confirmation struck a chord, tell your representatives, and let them know you will remember: you will remember during marches and rallies; you will remember during the midterm elections, national elections and all local elections; you will not let time make you complacent. If we truly believe children are our future, we must work together to protect them in and out of the classroom.