Access to Education Shouldn’t Be a Gene Pool Lottery

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When former Alaska Governor and Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin was in the news and on the campaign trail in 2008, and found herself stuck for an answer in an interview, she scrolled through her short list of talking points and confidently blurted out the one that seemed closest to the gist of the question. Her answers often were neither cogent nor informative, but they put the ball back in the interviewer’s court and got her off the hook. By the time the questioner got past the head scratching and shock over her abject ignorance, it was time to move on. Thankfully, Half-Governor Palin didn’t get elected and we didn’t have to witness the devastation she would have wrought in the Executive Branch of government.

It turns out that we only got an eight-year reprieve. Now, firmly ensconced in real-life governing is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Secretary DeVos is channeling Ms. Palin and has embraced the “How to Deal With Tough Questions” page from Palin’s playbook.

On Wednesday, May 24, Sec. DeVos sat in front of Congress giving testimony about the proposed $9.2 billion in federal cuts to education, plus the $1.4 billion that will in turn be spent to expand school choice initiatives–effectively making a $10.6 billion cut to public schools.

I am all for school choice, but what the secretary is calling “choice” is in reality nothing more than realigning federal monies from public to private/religious schools. We can make the changes that allow families to find schools that best meet a student’s individual needs without using taxpayer money to fund a wealthy family’s tax cut by helping them pay for tuition into private institutes.

Ms. DeVos’s choice programs originally got a fair amount of support from some pretty hefty donors. But, as details are emerging, thanks to the many marches and protests over the last months, those supporters are learning that there is a vast difference in providing kids choices between traditional and charter public schools that are tuition free and using tax money to support vouchers to elite private and religious schools. The Gates Foundation is one that is still in support of choice, but has withdrawn donations and has re-pledged to fight against the application of vouchers.

Ms. DeVos does not stop with vouchers. She seeds an even darker cloud by not committing to federally defund schools that discriminate when admitting students.

She was asked repeatedly by members of Congress about insuring a fair distribution of money and that all kids would have equal access to its use. Her answers became Palinesque. She stated over and over when asked questions about private schools discriminating against African Americans, then again about LGBT students, and even students with disabilities being able to seek their due process rights, each time she repeated, “States make the rules that allow for parents to make choices.” Stunned questioners could not find any form of discrimination that would cause the Department of Education to withhold federal funds.

The questioning went on to highlight the fact that most of the huge education cuts would be to student centered programs–often programs that benefit minority groups. Among the cuts: Special Olympics, after school programs for lower income families, programs for gifted students, and work-study programs that help high schoolers pay for college. Defending these cuts, the secretary’s answers sounded like her tape loop was stuck: “States make the rules that allow for parents to make choices.”

By passing this one single bill, we will be telling our children that some deserve to be served by our government and some do not. If Ms. DeVos gets her way, the federal government will stand by and let states discriminate against specific groups of children in two ways. One sanctioned discrimination would be that government values choice about where kids go to school by whether or not there is enough money in the family to supplement a voucher. A child will hear; “We will help other kids choose to go to a special school, but not you because you don’t have enough money. Loser!”

Beyond that if the federal government stands by when private and religious schools discriminate, school children will understand that the government, the very group that imposes laws and polices their behavior, the one represented by Uncle Sam, says it’s okay to say no because of one’s skin color, prayer habits, or abilities. Again, a kid hears, “Loser!”

When adults, especially government officials, call kids “losers”, they believe it and act like it. This is not a good foundation for successful schools.

Many voters do not believe in big government and government regulations, but it is not an overreach to expect the 535 people we elect to represent the Declaration of Independence and uphold the Constitution, plus those we entrust the president to appoint, to think that when they pass educational legislation, that legislation is aimed at providing an equal chance for every single kid in this country, not just those that private schools find acceptable.

 

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