Michigan Native Takes a Seat in the Presidential Cabinet

Betsy DeVos speaking at a conference for the American Conservative Union.

Donald Trump was inaugurated as 45th president of the United States on January 21st, 2017. Every president has a Cabinet, which is a group made up of the vice president and 15 department heads. One of these department heads is a Michigan native.

Betsy DeVos was born on January 8, 1958 in Holland, Michigan, which is northwest of Kalamazoo. DeVos has been chosen by President Trump to be the United States Secretary of Education.

The hearing in order for DeVos to assume her position was a historic one in the sense that this hearing was the first time that a cabinet pick had to be decided by the vice president of the United States. There was a 50-50 split in the Senate on DeVos’ confirmation as Secretary of Education, so Vice President Mike Pence had to step in to decide the outcome.

With DeVos as Secretary of Education, many of the staff and students at Loy Norrix might be affected by some of the decisions that she could make regarding education.

DeVos is an avid supporter of educational vouchers. An educational voucher is a form of government money given to the parents of a child in order for the parent to choose what school to send their child to. These can be used to pay for private school tuition.

According to Congress.gov, representative Steve King from the U.S House of Representatives created a bill called H.R.610 which would allow federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students. This bill would also move to change a certain nutrition standard relating to nutrition standards in schools. The change in the nutrition standards would increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat free milk in school meals. This would reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in school meals while still meeting the child’s nutritional need within their caloric requirements.

According to Romper.com, H.R.610 could also have an affect on children with disabilities. This would occur because H.R.610 would abolish the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which was passed in 1965 by former president Lyndon B. Johnson. The basic purpose of ESEA is for the government to have some sort of power in public education. The bill also created an opportunity for equal education for everyone. Since 1965, this bill has been modified. In 2001 President George W. Bush passed the No Child Left Behind Act.

In 2015, President Obama modified this bill and called it the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The repeal of ESSA would affect students with disabilities because without this bill the students with disabilities would no longer have the equal opportunity to education that they have right now. 

Private schools are not funded by tax dollars. They are generally funded by charging the students for tuition. According to CAPE, the average private school tuition in 2011-12 was $10,740 for all levels of education, $7,770 for elementary schools, $13,030 for secondary schools and $13,640 for K-12 schools.

The use of vouchers would encourage students to leave public schools and switch over to private schools which would affect public school teachers.  

Matthew Porco is the current AP U.S History and AP European History teacher at Loy Norrix. As a public school teacher, Porco has strong opinions on what qualities a good Secretary of Education should have.

“I voted against vouchers when they were on the ballot in Michigan. I think that they are an attack on public schools which is a cornerstone of our democracy,” said Porco.

Michael Wright is the current Government, AP Government and American Military History teacher at Loy Norrix. As a government teacher, Wright has high standards for what qualities he believes a good Secretary of Education needs.

“I believe that a parent should have the right to take their child to whatever school they choose. I think that there are parts of voucher programs that I like but there are also parts of voucher programs that I don’t like. I have seen where school of choice, for instance, has hurt schools on the Eastern side of the state,” continued Wright, “From what I’ve seen vouchers have been successful where they have been tried so I am willing to give them a shot. However, I would hate to see schools lose funding but I also see where schools waste funding.”

The voucher program was on the ballot in Michigan in 2000 under the name Proposal 1. Proposal 1 was voted down with a total percentage of votes no of 69.1 percent, while there was a 30.9 percent vote yes.

If DeVos decides to implement some type of voucher program, Kalamazoo Public Schools might lose some of its budget as well as some of its students.

Many people feel that DeVos is unfit to be the Secretary of Education due to her lack of experience in a public school environment.

“Well, honestly I think that she is too much of an unknown quantity. There is a lot about her that gives me cause for concern. The fact that she has never been in a public classroom, but I could say that about 9/10ths of the people who make education policy,” said Wright, “They are either never teachers or they were teachers for too short of time to know what it’s like. So I will watch what she intends to do with a great deal of precaution.”

“I don’t really understand what her qualifications are for this position. For education secretary we are used to having people with little experience make the policies,” said Porco.

There were many speculations as to who would replace DeVos had she not won the nomination in the Senate.

“I think that Dr. Larry Arnn, who is the President of Hillsdale College,” said Wright about who he believed would have been a better fit for Secretary of Education.

According to Betsy DeVos, she is not a supporter of the Common Core State Standards Initiative which is an educational initiative in the United States that sets the standard for what students should know in mathematics and English Language Arts at the end of each grade. But many of the groups that DeVos supports are in favor of the Common Core.

Wright is not a supporter of Common Core. “I hate Common Core and I think that it should be abolished from our schools,” said Wright.

Both of these teachers have a diverse opinion on Common Core.

“I think that Common Core is a curriculum designed to bring our students into the 21st century. It’s not perfect and it will need revision, but much of the opposition to it seems to be political,” said Porco.

DeVos is also quoted with saying some pretty radical things. According to NBC News, while being interviewed by members of the Senate at her confirmation hearing, DeVos was asked if she believed that guns should be in schools. DeVos is quoted with saying the following, “I think probably there [Wapiti, Wyoming] I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

This quote received relatively negative criticism on social media.

“I think that guns in schools are inappropriate by non-law enforcement officials under any circumstances,” said Porco.

The presidential cabinet members do not have a specific term limit. Cabinet members are generally selected by the president at the beginning of his or her term and they tend to serve all 4 years. When the president leaves office, the cabinet members tend to resign, although it is not mandatory.

While DeVos might seem to be unqualified to be the Secretary of Education due to a lack of experience in a public school setting, she will still continue to be the Secretary of Education for the foreseeable future.

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