I met with Betsy DeVos, nominee for Secretary of Education, in my Washington, D.C., office this week to hear directly from her about her intentions if confirmed. I had the opportunity to ask about concerns I had after her confirmation hearing and based on the input I’ve received from Kansans. My thanks to those who have reached out to me to share your thoughts - I appreciate hearing from you. I also wanted to share with her what, from a Kansas perspective, I’m seeking in our next Secretary of Education.
The Secretary of Education should have a limited role in setting education policy at the federal level and avoid one-size-fits-all standards for schools across the country. Local school boards, teachers and parents should have the most influence and decision-making power. I also feel strongly that helping one group of students to find more opportunity should not come by reducing the resources available for other students. High-performing schools in Kansas – be they rural, urban or suburban – should be able to continue on their path to success without federal intrusion.
I frequently visit elementary, middle, and high schools as well as community colleges, technical schools and universities across our state. My goal during the visits is always to make certain our schools are succeeding and the federal role in education is not too overbearing. I know that the impact our teachers and administrators have on our kids, their development and well-being is impossible to overstate. Teachers change the world one student at a time. The future of our state is decided on a daily basis in our classrooms, and our strong local schools help us make good things happen at home and across the country.
As I mentioned, I laid out a number of my concerns for Ms. DeVos – namely, the threat of a federally-mandated voucher program in our state and potentially insufficient enforcement and funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. I shared my view about the limited role she should have from the federal level.
Here is how Ms. DeVos responded to my questions:
She will oppose federally mandated vouchers.
She will work with me to achieve the goal of full funding of IDEA to provide greater support for students with disabilities.
She understands that voucher driven private schools may destroy or harm small rural schools in our state, and therefore this must remain a local or state issue. She understands that Kansas rural, urban and suburban schools are almost always considered to be excellent and many Kansans therefore don't see voucher-driven private schools as necessary to improve quality.
She has spent much of her life trying to see that children with much fewer resources receive the same quality education as her children. That's a noble effort, but the quest to improve the opportunities for those lacking quality education should not be pursued at a cost in resources of our public schools.
She agrees that we must return control over our students’ curriculum and assessments to the state and local levels by implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act as Congress intended.
After our discussion, I will vote to support her nomination. Educators who interact with our children each day in the classroom have a much greater impact on the quality of their education and the lives these students will live than a Secretary of Education ever could, and I believe it should remain that way.