Federal Education Policy Commentary

Libby Sobic:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is one of President Trump’s longest-reigning cabinet members, having served in her post for more than 1,000 days. In large part because of her unwavering commitment to school choice, DeVos has sparked outrage from public unions since the moment she was nominated. Her road to confirmation was contentious, passing the U.S. Senate only because Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie. In 2017, when she tried to visit a public school in Washington, protestors blocked her entrance. During a speech at Harvard, students turned their backs to her and raised “white supremacist” banners – ironic, given her 30-yearcareer of advocating and helping low-income, minority students to attend better schools. 

Yet, while the teachers’ unions continue to vilify her and some in the media demonize her, DeVos has quietly built an impressive resume of rolling back federal government involvement in the classroom, promoting the expansion of school choice, and encouraging states to be innovative with their education policies.  

The U.S. Department of Education should not have a significant say over K-12 policy – indeed, voters in Wisconsin overwhelmingly want more local control. DeVos has recognized this and took steps to remove the federal government from the classroom. For example, in December 2018, she rescinded President Obama’s “Dear Colleague” letter on student discipline, which the Obama education department released in 2014, threatening federal action if discipline policies resulted in “disparate impact” on racial minorities. This letter coerced school districts to suspend fewer students. In Wisconsin, our analysis concluded that these softer discipline policies contributed to a 41 percent decrease in suspensions, which likely contributed to a decrease in proficiency rates in math and reading.