DeVos ded­i­cated to lim­it­ing fed­eral con­trol of schools

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY S.A. MILLER

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos in­sists that ev­ery­thing she does at the depart­ment is aimed at get­ting the fed­eral govern­ment out of lo­cal schools, mak­ing good on that pop­ulist cam­paign prom­ise from Pres­i­dent Trump while his big-ticket leg­isla­tive goals re­main mired in Congress.

Whether it’s re­plac­ing Obama-era school dic­tates with flex­i­ble guide­lines or boost­ing school choice pro­grams in dis­tricts across the coun­try, the fed­eral foot­print in ed­u­ca­tion is shrinking, Mrs. DeVos said.

Wash­ing­ton’s ed­u­ca­tion es­tab­lish­ment is not happy with the change of course. Teach­ers unions and lib­eral ac­tivists de­cry the re­treat and ac­cuse the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of leav­ing chil­dren and col­lege stu­dents at the mercy of for-profit schools.

But break­ing apart the “gov­ern­men­trun ed­u­ca­tion mo­nop­oly,” as Mr. Trump de­scribed it dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial race, was pre­cisely why he chose Mrs. DeVos.

She is a long­time crusader for char­ter schools and voucher pro­grams that al­low fed­eral funds to pay tu­ition at pri­vate and re­li­gious schools.

“If my work in ed­u­ca­tion over the last three decades has taught me any­thing, it’s that par­ents and lo­cal lead­ers — not Wash­ing­ton bu­reau­crats — know best. As sec­re­tary, ev­ery­thing I do is fo­cused on em­pow­er­ing them and get­ting the fed­eral govern­ment out of their way,” Mrs. DeVos told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

As with other Cab­i­net agen­cies un­der Mr. Trump, the big changes to date at the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment have been made on reg­u­la­tory and pol­icy fronts, re­vers­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s legacy and chang­ing the di­rec­tion of the ship of state.

But the in­abil­ity of the Repub­li­can-run Congress to pro­duce on the leg­isla­tive front has left Mr. Trump with Oba­macare still on the books, while ma­jor tax re­forms and a mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram are still far from pas­sage.

In the first six months of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment has un­der­taken a top-to-bot­tom re­view of its reg­u­la­tions, trimmed the depart­ment’s work­force through at­tri­tion and put the brakes on sev­eral rules is­sued un­der Mr. Obama.

Mrs. DeVos cre­ated a con­sol­i­dated state plan that gave schools more flex­i­bil­ity in com­ply­ing with the Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act. The bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion passed un­der Mr. Obama was sup­posed to hold schools ac­count­able for stu­dent per­for­mance but was widely crit­i­cized for im­pos­ing dam­ag­ing and overly pre­scrip­tive man­dates on pub­lic school sys­tems.

She rolled back a stu­dent loan re­pay­ment rule that was sup­posed to sim­plify stu­dent debt for­give­ness for vic­tims of lender fraud, but it faced re­sis­tance from some in the higher ed­u­ca­tion com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing ad­min­is­tra­tors at his­tor­i­cally black col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.

She also nixed a “gain­ful em­ploy­ment” rule that was in­tended show stu­dents the re­la­tion­ship be­tween stu­dent debt and pro­jected in­come from their fields of study and deny fed­eral loans at schools where the debt-to-in­come gap was too high.

DeVos spokes­woman El­iz­a­beth Hill said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s se­lec­tive ap­proach to this rule was a thinly veiled at­tempt to tar­get and crip­ple a spe­cific sec­tor — for-profit schools — that they did not like.

Union op­po­si­tion

Nearly ev­ery move was met with fierce op­po­si­tion, es­pe­cially from the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers, one of the na­tion’s two ma­jor teach­ers unions and a fierce de­fender of pub­lic schools.

“Just like the cli­mate change de­niers, Betsy DeVos is a pub­lic school de­nier,” said AFT Pres­i­dent Randi Wein­garten. “She has lived up to our con­cern that she would be the most anti-pub­lic-ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary of ed­u­ca­tion ever.”

Mrs. DeVos has bat­tled teach­ers unions since she be­gan her school choice ad­vo­cacy at home in Michi­gan. The AFT spear­headed op­po­si­tion that nearly de­railed her Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion, which she won in 50-50 vote with Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence break­ing the tie in her fa­vor.

Ms. Wein­garten said the sec­re­tary was run­ning the same play­book she used in Michi­gan for “de­fund­ing, desta­bi­liz­ing, pri­va­tiz­ing pub­lic schools and hurt­ing kids.”

“She’s pro­posed a bud­get that takes a meat cleaver to pub­lic schools and elim­i­nates af­ter-school pro­grams, com­mu­nity schools and fund­ing to lower class sizes,” said the union leader. “She’s sided with preda­tory lenders and for-prof­its over stu­dents and re­cent grad­u­ates who are be­ing crushed by debt or were sold a phony de­gree, and she’s rolling back the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s obli­ga­tion to pro­tect the civil rights of all kids, most par­tic­u­larly trans­gen­der kids and young women in col­lege, while push­ing for failed choice and voucher plans that have a track record of harm­ing rather than help­ing chil­dren.”

Mrs. DeVos has not won ev­ery battle. The Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment an­nounced last week that it was shelv­ing plans to rad­i­cally stream­line the fed­eral stu­dent loan ser­vic­ing pro­gram by des­ig­nat­ing a sin­gle com­pany to col­lect stu­dent debt pay­ments on be­half of the fed­eral govern­ment. Crit­ics said the plan would give too much power to one com­pany and put stu­dent bor­row­ers at a dis­ad­van­tage.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos says her work in ed­u­ca­tion has shown her that par­ents and lo­cal lead­ers know what’s best.

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