Loyalty is Everything. However, Competence is Just a Bonus

Dielle Ochotorena

Staff Writer

Since the start of the new presidential term, only a few of Donald Trump’s cabinet picks have been vetted and approved by the Senate amidst scrutiny by Democrats and most of the nation. Senator Charles Schumer, the Democrat minority leader, shared that, “the president’s cabinet is a swamp Cabinet, full of billionaires and bankers that have conflicts of interest and ethical lapses as far as the eye can see” (The Atlantic). It seems that the president has managed to acquire several loyal subjects with deep pockets but lack the experience and the expertise to manage the departments they are expected to run. And those who have been nominated for Trump’s Cabinet are all Caucasian except for two, and only two women being selected.

The new cabinet selections are a significant change to Obama’s cabinet appointments in 2009, which consisted of people that had prior experience in government roles before being nominated for a cabinet position. Obama’s cabinet had diverse ethnic backgrounds which is something Americans look at considerably as they question whether they are being represented by the Cabinet members (NPR). Although I have concerns about Trump’s Cabinet nominations and what they will be bringing to the table, I am most concerned about who will become the head of the Department of Education.

Betsy DeVos, a billionaire philanthropist, is up for the position as the Secretary of Education, and it appears that her views rely on only one word: choice. She has used her influence (i.e. financial resources) to support public charter school and private school vouchers (New York Times). For those who don’t know, vouchers are like coupons that parents can use to transfer state dollars to send their kids to schools of their choice, private or religiously affiliated schools instead of the public school in their district. They’re supposed to be used by students from low-income families, have disabilities or families zoned in a failing public school.

One of the main reasons vouchers are controversial is due to the first Amendment and the Blaine Amendments present in many state constitutions prohibit public dollars from being spent on religious schools (Pew Research Center). DeVos’s position on allowing vouchers and favoring private, charter and/or religious schools makes it seem as though schools should be privatized and deprive lower-income students from attaining quality education from public schools while allowing for wealthy families to get a leg up. Wouldn’t this policy help the rich become richer and the poor become poorer?

Her views aside, she lacks the qualifications and the experience to be Secretary of Education. In her nomination hearing, she was lost in educational terminology and couldn’t even relate to the benefits of public education and student loans-the federal government is the highest contributor of these funds- her lack of knowledge of the department she is poised to run is a bit off putting. When questioned by Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, she “did not know the difference between growth, which measures how much students have learned over a given period, and proficiency, which measures how many students reach a targeted score;” and over the topic of guns in schools, she proposed that “some school officials should be allowed to carry guns on the premises to defend against grizzly bears” (New York Times). As a student, I’m a bit worried about the state of the future of my education and the wellbeing of other student’s education.

I fear that DeVos will not be able to understand the benefits of public education, especially in regards to its affordability. In theory, public schools provide children of any economic standing an opportunity to get a quality education without having to worry about hefty fees. To be given the freedom of choice for schools isn’t a bad thing, but the system of vouchers is being exploited by already affluent families to remove their kids from the public education system. It only further segregates kids from each other in terms of ethnicity, financial standing, and race. If all children deserve good quality education, then why is that only those who are well off can use the system to their advantage and leave the rest of us behind to deal with their selfishness? Taking state dollars away from public education will only hurt those who can’t afford to search for alternative schooling, and would cause an array of issues in many public schools that include: cutting various academic programs such as Fine Arts, lowering teacher salaries, and relying heavily on standardized tests for funding. The state funds being transferred away by wealthier families are hurting public school children and their families, as they are forced to pay high tuitions to send their kids to a school whose quality of education relies on how many students go there. The money that the government gives to public schools doesn’t just benefit one student: it affects all of them and provides funds for school materials needed to enhance learning.

By allowing vouchers to be transferred by wealthy parents to give their kids alternative schooling in the form of private, charter, and religious schools seems like overkill. Vouchers were meant to be reserved for low-income families and parents with special needs children, but instead they are being used by parents who can already afford such a luxury as being able to choose the school of which their child attends. The public education system isn’t perfect but it isn’t flawed to the point that we need to revamp and change the system all together. Instead of increase the availability of vouchers to parents, I hope she would fight to increase funding for public education. After all, if appointed, DeVos will be responsible for protecting and improving the education of all American children regardless of financial, religious, or ethnic background doesn’t matter. But instead, it seems like she is prioritizing one group of people over others. And in no way should ideas that support elitism while marginalizing other groups exist in a country that was built on the idea that everyone is created equal.