DeVos on Accountability and the Right to an Education

DeVos on Accountability and the Right to an Education January 18, 2017

DeVos’s confirmation hearings are this week. DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, has come in for a lot of criticism given her lack of experience with public schools (she has never attended, sent a child to, or worked at a public school) and her commitment to public charter schools and voucher programs. DeVos has refused to say that she supports public schools, and is a strong advocate of diverting public monies away from the public schools. She has also suggested that public schools are de facto inappropriate for the education Christian children.

During her confirmation hearings, DeVos had this to say of accountability:

Kaine: “If confirmed will you insist upon equal accountability in any K-12 school or educational program that receives taxpayer funding whether public, public charter or private?”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Kaine: “Equal accountability?”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Kaine: “Is that a yes or a no?”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Kaine: “Do you not want to answer my question?”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Kaine: “Let me ask you this. I think all schools that receive taxpayer funding should be equally accountable. Do you agree?”

DeVos: “Well they don’t, they are not today.”

Kaine: “Well, I think they should. Do you agree with me?

DeVos: “Well no . . . ”

As I’ve noted in the past, one of the biggest concerns I have with charter schools, and with voucher funding for private schools, is the lack of accountability frequently in place for these schools. There are states that do not require private schools to receive any form of accreditation. Heck, some states don’t even have a state accreditation system for private schools. Other states—DeVos’s own Michigan in particular—require very little of charter schools in terms of accountability. In some states, charter schools have skimmed state money off the top, providing little in the way of goods and services for their students.

A quick review of state voucher laws suggests that many (though not all) states with vouchers require participating public schools to have state accreditation, or other standards. This accountability question isn’t something Kaine dreamed up out of thin air; it is a central question in the expansion of public funding of privately run schools. DeVos could have discussed her views, outlining what accountability she thinks should (and should not) be in place for privately run schools that receive public education funds. This is the sort of thing the senators who will vote on her confirmation need to know in order to make an informed choice. But she refused.

Here is another concerning segment from the hearings:

Kaine asked her if she believes that all schools that receive federal funding — whether public, public charter or private — should be required to meet the requirements of IDEA.

She responded: “I think they already are.”

Kaine: “But I’m asking you a should question. Whether they are or not, we’ll get into that later.” He then repeated his question.

DeVos said: “I think that is a matter that is best left to the states.”

Kaine responded: “So some states might be good to kids with disabilities and other states might not be so good and, what then, people can just move around the country if they don’t like how kids are being treated?”

Devos repeated: “I think that’s an issue that’s best left to the states.”

This perhaps shouldn’t be surprising. Returning to more state and local control is a frequent conservative talking point. The trouble is that in this case we’re talking about children with disabilities’ right to a free appropriate education (known as FAPE). Are rights that aren’t federally enforced really rights?

Along with others who support a strong system of public education, I’m watching this week’s hearings with grave concern.

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