On Tuesday, February 7, 2017, the Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education in an historic tie breaking vote cast by Vice-President Pence. I refer to this day as “The Day The Music Died,” for reasons that aren’t that obvious, but you will see the connection when I discuss a number of bills that have been filed in Congress. For folks who haven’t figured out what is going on, I will provide a brief history of education reform and where we will likely be headed during the next four to eight years. I also want to emphasize that I believe that the Republicans who pushed for her nomination made a gross miscalculation in believing that only Democrats and Teacher Unions were opposed to DeVos. A large number of Republican parents have been upset by this nomination. I believe their anger will be reflected in the next elections.
When Ronald Reagan entered office, he had pledged to dismantle the department of education, which was just two to three years old. His plan was derailed by the Democrat backed report on education, “A Nation At Risk,” and a revised plan of action began to improve educational outcomes by holding states and districts accountable for results in exchange for federal dollars. This continued through his presidency and the presidencies of George Bush and Bill Clinton. When Bush number two was elected, it was kicked up a notch with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the introduction of charter schools, high stakes tests, etc.
It wasn’t until the Obama administration that the unholy union between Republicans and Democrats was born to “reform education.” In 2012, the Democrats For Education Reform (DFER) was formed, and while holding hands with the Republican reformers, they began the destruction of public education under Obama’s Race To The Top (RTTT) program. The Democrats, in general, supported “school choice” options that provided opportunities for “at risk” and “under served” students to succeed. The DFERs were a little more aggressive in their attitude toward school choice. They share some of the beliefs of the Republican reformers such as:
- High Stake Testing as proof of success, or failure.
- Teacher evaluations based on student test scores.
- Teacher unions as an impediment to success.
- School Board bureaucracy as an impediment to success.
- Broad authority to establish charter schools is essential.
This is where their similarities end. Don’t get me wrong. There are Republicans who do not prescribe to the tenets of education reform, and there are Democrats who wholeheartedly support the Republican approach, so these statements are very broad and general. Based on the events that have occurred since the presidential election, particularly the DeVos appointment, I’d wager that the Republicans duped the Democrats in the biggest way. They led them to believe that their goal was improving educational outcomes. While their efforts may, or may not, result in improvements, that is not their goal.
On February 3, 1959, a plane crashed in rural Iowa killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. This event is known as “The Day The Music Died.” Four days later, on February 7th, Holly was buried. I jokingly make comparisons between this event and DeVos’ nomination because on Friday, February 3rd, cloture was invoked on her nomination essentially killing public education, and on February 7th, she was confirmed; which buried it.
In addition to being a career educator, I am also a working songwriter and performer. There is an irony here that has me on the brink of totally losing my mind. Immediately after DeVos’ confirmation, Tom Massie (Kentucky-R) filed a number of bills related to education. I’ll get to those in a minute. While scouring through his bills, I came across another bill filed by Michael Conaway (Texas-R) and co-sponsored by Massie. House Concurrent Resolution 13 would prohibit Congress from requiring radio stations to pay for the public performances of music they play on the air. This would essentially eliminate the largest source of income for a songwriter. Not a performer. A songwriter. There is a misconception that songwriters get rich writing songs. While it is possible for someone who manages to write a hit to earn a comfortable living, it is far from getting rich.
Anyway, below you will find some short summaries of bills and links their filings so that you can read them. It is apparent, now that Republicans are in control of the executive branch and the legislative branch, the goal is not to improve educational outcomes. The goal is to reduce the size of government by dismantling the agencies that they deem unnecessary and/or stand in the way of free market enterprise and profit. Most of these agencies are intended to protect citizens from the unethical and illegal activities of corporations. These agencies include the Department of Education (USED), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Take a look, below. The following bills have been filed since January 3, 2017.
H.R. 34-Safe Students Act: Repeals the provisions in the criminal code that prohibit possession or discharge of a firearm in a school zone.
H.J.R. 58-Department of Education as it relates to teacher preparation: In Louisiana, an effort is already underway to require colleges and universities to evaluate their teacher preparation programs based on the ratings the teachers they produce get once employed. President Trump issued an executive order halting the rule-making authority of all agencies, including USED. This resolution nullifies that specific rule.
H.R. 861-To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency: That’s exactly what it does.
H.R.610 – To distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students and to repeal a certain rule relating to nutrition standards in schools.: This bill repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and strips down the role of Secretary of Education (DeVos) limiting it to the distribution of block grants to states that agree to use the money to fund vouchers for private school. If states don’t choose to participate, the money is distributed to states that do participate. By dangling a money carrot, the program essentially mimics the coercion in RTTT which is what Lamar Alexander claims that ESSA prohibits. Oh, and they managed to take a subtle jab at Obama by including a provision to repeal Michelle’s lunch program. Who wouldn’t support this bill, right?
H.R. 691-Choice Act: This bill would allow the parent of a child with an individual education plan (IEP) to enroll their child in private school and receive IDEA money, in the form of a voucher, up to the cost of tuition.
H.R. 719-A+ Act: This would allow states to submit a request to the Secretary of Education (DeVos) to combine certain funds for use in programs they deem appropriate to improve outcomes, excluding IDEA funds.
H.R. 899-Abolish the Federal Department of Education: And, of course, this is the final blow. A bill to defund and dismantle the department of education on December 31st, 2018. The bill text hasn’t been published, yet, but when it is, I’ll update.
Now, some folks may find a couple of these bills appealing. I won’t lie. I am intrigued by some of them; however, I want to point out and be perfectly clear, Louisiana has suffered a great deal of pain inflicted by the previous governor and legislature. Dismantling the USED for the purpose of “local control” will not prevent any further pain. In fact, it will enable it. When they say “local control,” they do not mean “local people.” They mean “local politicians,” and we already know how things go when they are in control.