Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to be next Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Fairmont Preparatory Academy

Commentary: The future of Department of Education under Secretary DeVos

Long standing has been the principle of the Trumpian government under the 45th presidency: to interfere when it benefits the majority and withdraw from legislating in matters that hurt minorities the most. Amidst the push for tax-cuts, lax legislation, and a roll-back on regulations, the education department, headed by Secretary Betsy Devos, serves as a microcosm for the principled problem with the glorification of “choice” over the recognition of disadvantage.

The department and its functions have already shrunk in size and purpose. The secretary has stated that she wants to decrease the federal government’s role in regulating and enforcing beneficial programs for students of all socioeconomic places. The education department has already been cut by 350 workers and the process is yet to continue, according to the secretary.

According to her department spokesman, the main reason she is cutting back on personnel is due to her belief that education should be controlled by the states, localities, and parents as opposed to the central government. Amidst the supposed burgeoning sense of ownership and autonomy from states, students are parents are left to question the purpose of the federal government in education.

It is important to note, however, that the federal department of education is already understaffed. Diminishing the power of the agency is going to severely undermine its ability to enforce civil rights law and provide financial aid to the students who need it most. In fact, a majority of the staff removed have come from the Office of Federal Student Aid, Office of the Inspector General and Office for Civil Rights. These departments are essential in investigating discrimination complaints and ensuring the safety of children in areas where they may not be supported adequately. Parents and students should be concerned as the state they live in, now, will have the most profound impact on the futures of their kids. Parents of children with special needs will no longer receive the same degree of protection that they used to.

In addition to cutting personnel, DeVos is seeking to cut the total budget by $9 billion. The first programs being eliminated are teacher training and college-prep programs for poor children. Over 87,000 applicants have still not received necessary debt relief as they wait for their requests to be arrested by an understaffed department. She is, instead, seeking to replace these essential programs by providing school vouchers, which families can use to attend private schools.

Apart from reducing parents’ confidence in the public school systems of their communities, the current department is also seeking to roll back much-needed regulation. Already, she has limited the activities of the Office for Civil Rights, which conducts investigations into discrimination, assault, and the civil rights of students. She has also rescinded guidance pertaining to investigating sexual assault investigations from the previous department procedures.

The state of the new Department of Education is disconcerting, to say the least. But it is important for people, including students, to voice their concerns. Starting community funds, speaking out about sexual assault and bullying on campus, and starting peer-tutoring programs for underprivileged kids are ways you can help combat educational inequality. It is fundamentally wrong to provide unequal education for children, and the state you live in should not affect your future prospects for success. But it is up to us, in the face of a diminishing administration, to protect the civil liberties and futures of our peers.

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