Editorial: Can Betsy DeVos do the job?

Editorial Board

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In the age where it is becoming more expensive and seemingly less worthwhile to get a college education, there are still Americans who believe in quality education being the proven road to their American dream. This is why we need people with the right qualification and mindset to manage how America’s education system is run; the secretary of education has the most important power to affect education in this country.

This is why we think Betsy DeVos is not the right person to be America’s secretary of education. There has been much objection to many of President Trump’s Cabinet picks, but DeVos’s nomination definitely stretches our imaginations.

In a pre-confirmation hearing letter to DeVos, Elizabeth Warren said about her qualification,“There is no precedent for an education department secretary nominee with your lack of experience in public education.” DeVos did not attend any public school and neither did any of her four children. She is the first nominee in 35 years to have no experience with the public school system. And that’s a big deal.

Dealing with a public school system is a major part of the job as secretary of education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, private school students made up just 9.7 percent of all elementary and secondary students in 2013. DeVos’s lack of experience in the public school system puts her that much further from understanding 90.3 percent of all students.

DeVos is a longtime supporter of charter schools. These schools combine features from both the public and private school system. They receive public funding but have great leverage in determining who gets to attend. This has raised concerns among politicians from both political persuasions.

When questioned if she believed guns should be allowed in schools (an idea unpopular even with many gun-friendly Americans), DeVos replied that guns may be necessary in some schools, where they might need “to protect from potential grizzlies.” Many people, including our staff, couldn’t believe her answer. The internet went amok over this suggestion. DeVos needs to have a strong stance on guns in schools, but it shouldn’t be the dangerous position of the National Rifle Association. It’s hard to recall when last a school was attacked by a grizzly bear.

The secretary of education also oversees the distribution of the department’s trillion-dollar financial aid program, a program that perhaps means more to low-income students than it does to “luckier” students, as DeVos said during the hearing. Trump has stated that he doesn’t want the government to profit off of hardworking students. It’s so important to have a secretary who agrees with that sentiment and be someone who will run the student aid program with the students in mind.

As college students, we want this as well, but it doesn’t sound like what DeVos would do. DeVos has no record with higher education funding. Her only experience comes from what her friends shared with her. It shouldn’t be surprising if DeVos ends up auctioning privatizing this program to student loan companies. At that point we’d know she cares more about these banks than students.

DeVos has never taken out a student loan or been on the receiving end of a Pell Grant. With 68 percent of graduates from both public and nonprofit colleges having student loan debt, it’s hard to imagine those people who don’t have any. In 2015, of those 68 percent, the average amount borrowed was $30,100. For DeVos to never have experienced what many college students go through every semester, we wonder what her level of appreciation of these issues would be in order to make great decisions to benefit students.

During her hearing, Devos stated that it was “premature” to commit to upholding the Obama administration’s Title IX guidelines regarding campus sexual assault. Premature.

With this starkly inadequate qualification, it’s hard to understand why the president nominated her in the first place. But maybe that’s not difficult. After all, her family invested at least $200 million in conservative/Republican causes. DeVos played a role in getting Trump elected to office, and that investment just paid off in an appointment.

Maybe she’ll prove us all wrong that performance in office does not depend much on relevant experience. But is that really a bargain we want to make with the lives of our students, with entire generations of this country’s future? America needs someone who will stand up for the rights of students and education, not someone who believes students need to be protected from bears.

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Editorial: Can Betsy DeVos do the job?