Making America Educate Again

Photo Courtesy of Tribune News Service
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence swears in Betsy DeVos as the Education Secretary in the Vice President's Ceremonial Office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House on Feb. 7, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Jacob Jardel
Managing Editor

One of Mike Pence’s duties as Vice President of the United States is to preside over the Senate. His most important duty in this office is to cast a tiebreaking vote on any split decisions that go through the floor.

Pence used his first tiebreaker in historic fashion on Feb. 7 when he cast the affirmative vote to elect Betsy DeVos into the Cabinet as Secretary of Education. It was the first time ever a VP used a vote to appoint a cabinet nominee.

There is potential to debate the validity of a process such as this one, especially considering the room for bias as it allows the VP to exert in appointing individuals to positions on the Cabinet. However, that line of questioning is not important right now.

What’s important is the impact this appointment could have on education – and what it says about political views on education as a whole.

Senators split the vote 50-50, voting almost completely along party lines. Every Democrat and Independent Congressperson voted against DeVos’ appointment, while all but two of the 52 Republicans voted for her.

The two dissenting GOP Senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, cited the nominee’s lack of qualifications from no work with public schools or the laws meant to protect the students.

“I have serious concerns about a nominee to be secretary of education who has been so involved in one side of the equation,” Murkowski said in January, “so immersed in the push for vouchers, that she may be unaware of what actually is successful within the public schools and also what is broken and how to fix them.”

The vouchers of which Murkowski speaks allow for the use of tax dollars to pay tuition at private, religious and for profit schools. DeVos also voiced her support for charter schools. Both actions work in contrast to the wishes of many educators who feel she is too disconnected from the plight of public schools to work with them effectively.

But she also puts the control of a child’s education in the hands of their parents. This point is the biggest selling point many supporters cite when claiming the validity of her candidacy. Indeed, in theory, this plan of action could help students get into better schools with better funding, hopefully at a reasonable price.

Even with these dilemmas in hand, the big issue extends beyond public K-12 education. It applies to higher education as well.

During initial hearings of DeVos’ candidacy, many outlets showed her as unaware of how public college education works and even more unaware of the student loan dilemma plaguing many graduates and students.

Some individuals criticized her on these points, both for not knowing much about her department and for not doing enough research into it to find accurate facts. All of these factors add onto the conflicts of interest that arise with her patterns of philanthropy.

These arguments leave many people with a worrisome decision: championing a new order of school choice or reforming the established order to better suit families.

At this point, the arguments get messy.

There are so many factors that go into the positives and negatives of public education, whether it involves teacher quality or resource accessibility. Government established entities like the Department of Education don’t help matters much, with the debate of no involvement vs. high involvement raging on. But one thing remains certain.

This issue would not be as worrisome if governments prioritized education better.

While money may not be the predominant reason many schools are performing poorly, it is a major contributor. In some states like Oklahoma, teachers are crossing state lines to get better pay and benefits – especially after budget shortfalls left education reeling heading into this fiscal year.

Educators in other states may not have suffered shortfalls in exactly the same way, but they feel it still. Meager pay for long hours do not seem to work, especially in states where requirements for becoming a teacher are minimal – thus leading to fewer education-based graduates on the college level.

And it all serves to keep the cycle in motion: lowered funds begetting poorer perceived quality, which only serves to cut more funds to a failing system when politicians should be focusing more on finding ways to bolster the quality.

After all, they are the ones who say that education is a top priority.

So what does Betsy DeVos’ appointment as Secretary of Education mean for the American public school system and school funding as a whole? That much, not too many of us can tell for certain. But if there is one benefit, it’s that it brings education to the forefront of more people’s minds – particularly the current shortcomings of public education and how to fix them.

But the way to fix it is not to implode it and start again, especially when there are many proven methods that work, many things that provide a foundation on which to build. The way to fix it is to support public education in a better way than we have already.

And it starts with taking care of teachers.

Many politicians have vilified teachers’ unions as organizations wanting more than their fair share of funding. But there are two worrisome aspects of this argument.

First is the idea that teachers are adequately paid as is because they only work during school hours. Living with a teacher for any period of time shows how that claim is astoundingly false, since they do lesson plans or stay in their rooms long before or after any bells sound.

Some work upwards of 10 hours a day five days a week, sometimes even on weekends.

To think their meager pay is warranted is outright ludicrous.

The other worrisome aspect, though, is how hypocritical it sounds after saying that educating the future is a top priority. Educators are the harbingers of that future, fostering minds toward that brighter future everyone wants.

But providing them with fewer resources runs counter to arguments about job creators, that supporting them helps support workers.

If trickle-down effects can work for employers, it should be able to help educators teach students.

Supporting them gives access to resources needed to help students learn better. It gives teachers better security to live so they don’t spend time at other jobs trying to make ends meet. It gives them a reason to stay in-state and stay in a field that affects future generations immeasurably – hopefully for the better.

In the end, we may not know what could come of Betsy DeVos’ nomination. But we need to make sure of one thing: It better help the young minds everyone wants to lead us to a greater America.


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