Committee senators failed to address key questions at DeVos hearing
American students continue to trail behind students from other industrial countries in educational achievement. In the most recent Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) report, American students ranked 25 out of the 72 countries that participated in the study. This report comes after an equally appalling Pew Research study revealed that American students are floating in the middle of the pack. Betsy DeVos's confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on Tuesday was, therefore, an opportunity for Americans to learn more about the country's trajectory in the next four years.
The committee hearing was not policy-focused and ended up being mainly a partisan debate. Thus, it is important to discuss some pressing issues that were not clarified during the committee hearing as well as one specific issue that was hidden beneath the partisan quagmire.
It is still unclear what kind of school choice policies DeVos will support.
Although many senators questioned DeVos on whether or not she would support public schools, they failed to ask questions about her proposed school choice policies. It would have behooved the committee to include questions about other key school choice elements such as vouchers, educational savings plans, non-publicly funded schools, right-to-work legislation, etc. A successful national school choice agenda will include more than just incentivizing states to deregulate charter schools, and the American people need to know what else school choice has to offer.
The committee failed to ask for clarification on DeVos's stance on higher education.
Multiple senators inquired whether or not DeVos wanted to lower student loan debt (of course, she always answered yes), but not a single question regarded specifics about DeVos's potential policies for higher education. Prior to the committee hearing, DeVos had not commented on anything related to higher education, yet this area may be the most pressing education problem in America today. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Household Debt and Credit Report claims that 44.2 million Americans currently have student loan debt totaling close to $1.26 trillion. The debt is fueled by the increasing cost to attend college, which has risen well above the rate of inflation. DeVos needs to address higher education and the student loan debt bubble before it bursts as the housing market bubble did in December of 2007. Hopefully, DeVos's strong opinions on K-12 school choice will not overshadow the crucial area of higher education if she is approved for office.
DeVos had fantastic answers on the role of state and local governments in education.
The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution leaves education up to the states, and even though most people would see this as a hindrance to DeVos, it could actually be a powerful tool. Instead of spending copious amounts of government money on new national policies, DeVos can look to incentivize states to try personalized school choice plans. During her hearing, DeVos recognized the importance of shrinking national bureaucracy in the realm of education and stated multiple times that policy should be ultimately determined at the "state and local levels." In addition, DeVos strengthened her argument by discussing the innovative educational systems in many specific states including Florida, Wyoming, and Alaska.
Education reform in America is on the horizon. School choice programs have been extremely successful and are garnering large amounts of support. The American people as well as past, current, and future presidents are recognizing the need for education reform and are searching for the answer to one of America's biggest problems. DeVos is in the perfect position to solve the education problem in America. Hopefully partisan squabbling will not get in the way of her doing so.
Stephen Strosko is a graduate student at George Mason University and a Young Voices Advocate.