betsy devos sworn in by mike pence
Who's DeVos?

What Betsy DeVos’ Confirmation Means For The Future Of Education

Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as the 11th U.S. Secretary of Education. The decision came after weeks of contention and a historical, tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. Whether you agree or disagree with her appointment, DeVos is here to stay. So what does this mean for you? Or does it mean anything at all? After all, the Department Of Education has only been an institution since May 4, 1980. And plenty of people went to school before then and turned out just fine. Even if they walked uphill both ways. Here’s what you can expect.

betsy devos secretary of education

A Big Push For More Charter Schools

DeVos is a big fan of the privately run but publicly funded institutions. She not only advocates for for-profit charter schools, but has also benefitted directly from people choosing them. And she’s expected to push them hard.

As great as offering parents more choices seems, opponents argue that it’s at the expense of public education, and research shows they can lead to segregation. One study found that 7 out of 10 black charter school students attended schools with 90 percent or more minority populations.

If DeVos’ work in Michigan is any indicator, this privatization comes with the catch of deregulation. When her home state came close to passing groundbreaking legislation to open more charter schools, as well as fix public education, she opted to destroy the bill because it asked for more regulations. Much like your kid, DeVos doesn’t love rules.

A Lot Of Talk About Vouchers

Vouchers allow parents to take what it costs to put a kid through public school – about $10,615 a year – and apply it to a private or religious school. Like charter schools, vouchers present parents with another option (good). But critics argue that they also siphon much-needed tax dollars from public schools (not good).

DeVos worked for the American Federation For Children, an organization that favors vouchers and “scholarship tax credits.” But the program on which the AFC modeled itself gave 70 percent of the scholarships to religiously affiliated schools. Other research backs that up. While this might work for some parents, others will be less than jazzed.

betsy devos

A Possible IDEA Change

Aside from the right to real bear arms, DeVos biggest blunder during her confirmation was her apparent lack of familiarity with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA requires public schools to provide free and adequate education to students with disabilities. But during her confirmation hearing, DeVos “confused” this and repeated “I support accountability” like a malfunctioning robot. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) was not amused.

DeVos later clarified her views on the IDEA defaulting again to her platform of wanting to give children and parents more choices in the form of Individual Education Programs, or IEPs. Does this mean she might repeal the act? Well, she can’t just choose to do that without Congress. And they weren’t exactly cool with giving her the gig to begin with. But rest assured that this issue will come up again.

An Education System That Could Operate More Like A Business

DeVos’ biggest selling point with her supporters is to turn education into a business. While a cost-for-goods system might be fine with those who can afford the price of privatized education, it’s going to cause problems for those who rely on public schools. Still, the Department of Education’s mission remains the same: To “supplement and complement the efforts of states, the local school systems, and other instrumentalities of the states, the private sector, public, and private nonprofit educational research institutions, community-based organizations, parents, and students to improve the quality of education.”

In other words, conservatives already have largely what they want in terms of leaving education up to the states. Of the department’s $68 billion budget, they’re responsible for less than 10 percent of K-12 funding. While that number has increased since the 1990s, it doesn’t mean much when you account for inflation. Parents worried about public schools should still direct these concerns locally, and perform the cost-benefit analysis to see if paying higher property taxes for good public schools is the best bang for your education buck.

If you were hoping for the Education Secretary to increase the government interventions in public education, that was unlikely regardless. But it’s possible that DeVos will maintain that status quo. Like most things in politics, nothing is set in stone. Until any action is taken, you can only be sure of one thing: Your kid is easier to bribe with pizza than Senators.