The motivation behind Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments is no mystery. At least not if you listen to the president’s top tactician.
“Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) [last week], White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said that President Trump’s cabinet picks are aimed at ‘deconstruction of the administrative state,’ meaning weakening regulatory agencies and other bureaucratic entities.”
How else to explain the appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education? Shamefully unqualified, DeVos barely gained approval, requiring a historic tie-breaking confirmation vote from Vice President Mike Pence. Certainly not the first education bureaucrat to lack teaching experience, DeVos was nominated by Trump primarily because she’s an advocate of school choice who can “break the bureaucracy” of public education.
The real question is how will DeVos affect public schools in Connecticut? The answer is, not too much — at least not as things stand right now. But that could change.
“Education is primarily a state and local responsibility in the United States,” explains the Department of Education website. “It is states and communities, as well as public and private organizations of all kinds, that establish schools and colleges, develop curricula, and determine requirements for enrollment and graduation. The structure of education finance in America reflects this predominant state and local role.”
Indeed, while public schools nationwide receive an average of 8 percent of their funding from the federal government, Connecticut schools receive just 4 percent. From a fiscal perspective, then, Connecticut schools are fashioned more by local, rather than national, influences. In 2017, in particular, the state’s woeful budgetary condition is likely to have an even greater impact as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy attempts to rearrange the state’s school funding mechanisms.
Where Betsy DeVos might have more influence on Connecticut schools is through her department’s “twin goals of access and excellence through the administration of programs that cover every area of education.” Specifically, the department oversees the implementation of initiatives such as those established through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), launched in 1965 as a “comprehensive set of programs, including the Title I program of federal aid to disadvantaged children to address the problems of poor urban and rural areas.”
Ironically, such federal legislation has evolved to the point where the Department of Education has limited power over them. When No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, “the secretary of education no longer [had] the power to incentivize states to adopt a particular set of standards or have the discretion to reject state plans that are in compliance with the federal law.”
“In other words, so long as state plans include standards aligned to college coursework, implement assessments that have been reviewed and approved as defined by ESSA’s parameters, and include indicators for each subgroup of students, there is nothing the education secretary can do to incite change.”
Thus, Connecticut schools still control their own destiny. That is, unless federal bill H.R. 610 — introduced in January by Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa — becomes law.
“This bill repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and limits the authority of the Department of Education (ED) such that ED is authorized only to award block grants to qualified states. The bill establishes an education voucher program, through which each state shall distribute block grant funds among local educational agencies (LEAs) based on the number of eligible children within each LEA’s geographical area.”
Not only would H.R. 610 encourage vouchers; it would also provide “funds to parents who elect to enroll their child in a private school or to home-school their child.”
The circle is then complete. School-choice advocate Betsy DeVos takes over the ED, the ED is weakened by federal legislation, said federal legislation eliminates Title I funding for disadvantaged students while simultaneously providing more money for school choice, and those funds are designated by none other than Betsy DeVos in her sole responsibility as education secretary.
Connecticut public schools, meanwhile, would see an unprecedented influx of schools of choice, making charter-school advocates like ConnCAN’s Jennifer Alexander happy.
And in the end, the “administrative state” that Steve Bannon so despises would be further “deconstructed” by Betsy DeVos in her signature unwitting style.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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