By Amanda Menas
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever for local communities to have the power to make decisions for our public schools and be responsible for the education of all students. ALL students should have the legal right to access high-quality learning experiences, but long-standing, systemic structures continue to interfere with access to education and opportunity for students of color, and they must be intentionally dismantled. However, the current administration has refused to listen to the educators, the professionals who know the names of the students in their classrooms. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been distracted by voucher schemes that result in negative impacts on our students, ignoring the growing and often race-based gaps in school funding, programs, and services. We can look to her experiment in Michigan to find the most tragic and cautionary tale.
The future Secretary of Education must fully embrace their roles and responsibilities of curing persistent and often intentional educational inequities so that all students have access to what the best public schools offer. The Biden/Harris administration has already committed to just that. Here are five ways Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Senator Kamala Harris will make changes to the Department of Education to best support our students and educators:
Biden will fire DeVos on Day One
Joe Biden told then-NEA President Lily Eskelsen García that on his first day in office he would fire Betsy DeVos and nominate an educator for Secretary of Education. With his commitment to including educators in the conversation, a pro-public education ally in Biden’s cabinet would center issues facing students and educators regularly.
The Department of Education will be Educator-Oriented
“Education should be put more in the hands of educators. You should have more input on what you teach, how you teach it, and when you teach it. You are the ones in the classroom, you should have more input,” Biden said at the NEA 2020 Virtual Representative Assembly in July. He continued, “This is going to be a teacher-oriented Department of Education, and it’s not going to come from the top down—it’s going to come from the teachers up.” Biden also reiterated that when federal funding is allocated to schools, educators should have a say in how it is spent in their local districts.
Biden is pro-public education, DeVos strips funding
Betsy DeVos supports the growing inequality of our public schools and what is referred to as the “Education Industry.” She has schemed to defund public schools — particularly in poor black and brown communities — to build a critical mass of dissatisfaction with neighborhood public schools and increase support for privately managed charters. Where DeVos encourages educators to leave the profession, forces a test-and-punish system, and cuts necessary programming for students, Biden promises to close educator pay gaps, increase diversity, and has promised that he will end federal funding for for-profit charter schools.
Joe and Jill Biden visit schools, DeVos ignores our students
During a 60 minutes interview, Betsy DeVos said “I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.” With Dr. Jill Biden, an educator and long-time NEA member, as first lady, there will always be a partner to educators in the White House. At the beginning of the 2020 school year, Jill embarked on a two-week tour visiting in-person and virtually schools across the country to listen to educators during their first-ever virtual or hybrid school year. As someone who taught in a public school, Jill understands the needs of educators and students and the resources they need to be successful. DeVos never attended a public K-12 school, her children never attended public schools, and she never taught in a public school, making her totally disconnected and unqualified to lead the Department of Education and keep our students safe.
Biden rewards educators, DeVos punishes them
“Teachers shouldn’t have to worry about how they are going to make their student loan payments while they are busy educating the next generation,” said Biden. He promises to fix the existing Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and simplify it so it actually helps educators. DeVos has denied educators their earned benefits through loopholes and flawed implementation and has recommended that the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program be eliminated