What DeVos can do to calm her critics

Early in his campaign, Donald Trump pledged, "As president, I will establish the national goal of providing school choice to every American child living in poverty. If we can put a man on the moon, dig out the Panama Canal, and win two world wars, then I have no doubt that we as a nation can provide school choice to every disadvantaged child in America."

Now that Betsy DeVos is confirmed, America could be closer to achieving this goal, but the path will not be easy due to strong partisan opinions in both the House and the Senate.  Already pegged as the "most polarizing education secretary ever," it is clear that DeVos has a tough job ahead of her.

In order to lead America's education policy and quell the legitimate concerns raised by her opponents, DeVos should explain to worried Americans that school choice can still include an effective public school system.  Further, DeVos should repeal federal regulations that disincentivize states from adopting personalized education programs that could benefit their students.

While some criticism of DeVos has been political theatre, a few of DeVos's colleagues have legitimate worries about her policies.  Two of them, Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, even broke rank to make the confirmation vote close.  DeVos is a strong advocate of school choice policies and the reallocation of public school funds to voucher programs and private schools, which can be a scary prospect for senators from rural areas like Alaska and Maine.

School choice programs are difficult to implement in rural areas due to low populations and the inherent lack of educational choice.  There is simply no market for a private school to open in an area that has a graduating class of only ten students.  Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) brought up this specific concern during the committee hearing for DeVos:

Eighty-two percent of communities in Alaska are not attached by road[.] … [My constituents] are concerned because they would love to have the choice we are talking about, but when you are a small school, and there is no way to get to an alternative option for your child, the best parent is left relying on a public school system[.] ... [We want] to make sure that your commitment to a public education, particularly for rural students, who have no choices is as strong and robust as the passion you have dedicated to advancing charter schools.

There is a solution to the problem that Senator Murkowski raises.  Instead of focusing on national education programs, DeVos should direct all decisions regarding education to the states.  This would allow for rural states like Alaska to choose to keep effective public school systems in place, while also allowing school choice programs, like those found in Florida, Nevada, and many other states, to flourish.

Education policy at the state level is not a new concept and would be easy to implement.  In fact, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution shows that education should have been a state issue from the very beginning.  Not only is this solution constitutionally appropriate, but it would also be a catalyst for school choice, a concept that has gained significant backing in the recent years.

Many states have expressed strong interest in enacting school choice policies but have been discouraged by red tape that the previous administrations have put in the way.  Many senators are aware of this red tape and have already proposed legislation at the committee level to remove harmful regulations.  Now Betsy DeVos needs to join the fray.

Some of these harmful regulations still exist in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  The ESSA was a step in the right direction with regard to diminishing the federal monopoly on education, but still represents a 1,000-plus-page document that the federal government is using to manage decisions that should be made at the local level.  Specifically, DeVos should look to get rid of regulations carried over from No Child Left Behind, through ESSA, that promote national curricula and "correct" ways to teach.  By getting rid of the incentives that encourage states to rest in the status quo, states will be free to explore school choice policies that could truly benefit their students.

Congrats to Betsy DeVos on her confirmation.  She has a lot of critics to quiet, even within her own party.  Hopefully, she can do what is best for our nation by giving the freedom to experiment with greater school choice in the states.

Stephen Strosko is a graduate student at George Mason University and a Young Voices Advocate.

Early in his campaign, Donald Trump pledged, "As president, I will establish the national goal of providing school choice to every American child living in poverty. If we can put a man on the moon, dig out the Panama Canal, and win two world wars, then I have no doubt that we as a nation can provide school choice to every disadvantaged child in America."

Now that Betsy DeVos is confirmed, America could be closer to achieving this goal, but the path will not be easy due to strong partisan opinions in both the House and the Senate.  Already pegged as the "most polarizing education secretary ever," it is clear that DeVos has a tough job ahead of her.

In order to lead America's education policy and quell the legitimate concerns raised by her opponents, DeVos should explain to worried Americans that school choice can still include an effective public school system.  Further, DeVos should repeal federal regulations that disincentivize states from adopting personalized education programs that could benefit their students.

While some criticism of DeVos has been political theatre, a few of DeVos's colleagues have legitimate worries about her policies.  Two of them, Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, even broke rank to make the confirmation vote close.  DeVos is a strong advocate of school choice policies and the reallocation of public school funds to voucher programs and private schools, which can be a scary prospect for senators from rural areas like Alaska and Maine.

School choice programs are difficult to implement in rural areas due to low populations and the inherent lack of educational choice.  There is simply no market for a private school to open in an area that has a graduating class of only ten students.  Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) brought up this specific concern during the committee hearing for DeVos:

Eighty-two percent of communities in Alaska are not attached by road[.] … [My constituents] are concerned because they would love to have the choice we are talking about, but when you are a small school, and there is no way to get to an alternative option for your child, the best parent is left relying on a public school system[.] ... [We want] to make sure that your commitment to a public education, particularly for rural students, who have no choices is as strong and robust as the passion you have dedicated to advancing charter schools.

There is a solution to the problem that Senator Murkowski raises.  Instead of focusing on national education programs, DeVos should direct all decisions regarding education to the states.  This would allow for rural states like Alaska to choose to keep effective public school systems in place, while also allowing school choice programs, like those found in Florida, Nevada, and many other states, to flourish.

Education policy at the state level is not a new concept and would be easy to implement.  In fact, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution shows that education should have been a state issue from the very beginning.  Not only is this solution constitutionally appropriate, but it would also be a catalyst for school choice, a concept that has gained significant backing in the recent years.

Many states have expressed strong interest in enacting school choice policies but have been discouraged by red tape that the previous administrations have put in the way.  Many senators are aware of this red tape and have already proposed legislation at the committee level to remove harmful regulations.  Now Betsy DeVos needs to join the fray.

Some of these harmful regulations still exist in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  The ESSA was a step in the right direction with regard to diminishing the federal monopoly on education, but still represents a 1,000-plus-page document that the federal government is using to manage decisions that should be made at the local level.  Specifically, DeVos should look to get rid of regulations carried over from No Child Left Behind, through ESSA, that promote national curricula and "correct" ways to teach.  By getting rid of the incentives that encourage states to rest in the status quo, states will be free to explore school choice policies that could truly benefit their students.

Congrats to Betsy DeVos on her confirmation.  She has a lot of critics to quiet, even within her own party.  Hopefully, she can do what is best for our nation by giving the freedom to experiment with greater school choice in the states.

Stephen Strosko is a graduate student at George Mason University and a Young Voices Advocate.

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