When two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, decided to vote against the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, it wasn’t a surprise.
If the last nine years as an education reformer have taught me anything, it’s that—regardless of party affiliation—the status quo will not go down without a bitter fight.
Senators Collins or Murkowski do nothing to support my rights as a parent or my children’s educational success.
In her statement rejecting DeVos, Collins said she was “troubled and surprised” about DeVos’s “lack of familiarity” with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Murkowski also voiced her concerns about a nominee “who has been so immersed in the discussion of vouchers.”
It seems Collins is ignorant of DeVos’s record on special needs advocacy. Murkowski’s primary concern is DeVos’s history of supporting parental choice, but that’s a important plank of her own party’s platform.
Beginning in 2011, as chairwoman of American Federation for Children (AFC), Betsy DeVos led an aggressive effort to pass Wisconsin legislation that would provide the necessary programatic funding for students with special needs who chose private schools in Milwaukee. That bill finally passed in 2016.
When AFC first proposed this special needs bill, Milwaukee already had a thriving school choice program that was serving thousands of children with special needs. However, most of these schools had no way of funding many of the additional and costly services these children required, until DeVos’s advocacy helped remedy that. While ultimately successful, AFC and its ally’s efforts to support these children and their schools were aggressively opposed by many in the government-run school systems.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was established as a critical response to most government-run schools systems’ refusal to educate children with disabilities. Now that same opposition is not only trying to falsely claim that DeVos doesn’t understand or care about educating disabled children, but would like to cheat parents out of their right to send their children to a school that best serves their needs—special or not.
To level false allegations regarding DeVos’s knowledge and experience is unethical, but to deny parents the right to choose what’s best for their children is immoral.
Originally posted on The Hill.