The anxiety and high tensed battle for DeVos came to a climatic end on Tuesday with Mike Pence having to travel to the “Hill” to push her through (he is the first vice president in history to break a tie on a Cabinet nominee). Just days and nights before, activist union members and concerned citizens, marched, rallied and bombarded Congress with letters, calls and emails to vote against DeVos. Just the night before her narrow confirmation, Democrats dramatically held the Senate floor for 24-hours speaking against Trump’s pick for education secretary. To no avail DeVos was sworn in.
But before DeVos was sworn in, Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie’s presented H.R. 899, a one-sentence long bill which would eliminate the Department of Education in its entirety by the end of 2018. The bill was signed by seven other Republican members and Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Jody Hice (Ga.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Raúl Labrador (Idaho), Rep. Justin Amash (Mich) and Jason Chaffetz (Utah). Massie believes that policymakers at the state and local levels should be responsible for education policy, instead of a federal agency.
California Senator Ben Allen immediately responded, “As a former school board member and the current chair of the California State Senate Committee on Education, I know the essential role that states and local communities play in education. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Education protects the civil rights of students, coordinates the dispersal of federal education funds, supports needed research and data collection, manages federal student loan debt and provides other necessary functions for the well-being of our public schools. Therefore, eliminating the department entirely would hurt our students and educators.”
The Department of Education is fairly new being put in place under the Carter Administration in 1979. Before then Education fell under the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The Department of Education was allegedly created as a fulfillment of a 1976 presidential campaign promise. Carter earned the endorsement of the largest labor union in the United States, the National Education Association (NEA). The NEA gave its first presidential endorsement ever in 1976 to Carter which help secure his win, according to the Washington Post.
Upon signing the Department of Education Organization Act Statement in October 1979, Carter said:
Primary responsibility for education should rest with those States, localities, and private institutions that have made our Nation’s educational system the best in the world, but the Federal Government has for too long failed to play its own supporting role in education as effectively as it could. Instead of assisting school officials at the local level, it has too often added to their burden. Instead of setting a strong administrative model, the Federal structure has contributed to bureaucratic buck passing. Instead of simulating needed debate of educational issues, the Federal Government has confused its role of junior partner in American education with that of silent partner.
The Department of Health, Education and Welfare was dissolved at that moment into two new departments now known as Department and Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Department of Education has a 68-billion-dollar budget and 4,400 employees with a mission to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. Betsy DeVos will be tasked with establishing policies on federal financial aid for education, distributing as well as monitoring those funds, collecting data on America’s schools and disseminating research, focusing national attention on key educational issues and prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education according to the departments website.
LAUSD Board Member Dr. George McKenna III responded, “The DeVos confirmation demonstrates that money is a more powerful tool than knowledge, expertise, and integrity. Although never being a student, parent, teacher or administrator in public schools, DeVos is now in charge of the world’s largest school system and the 7th largest lending institution, the Department of Education. Congress has provided DeVos with a clear path to dismantle public education and cause irreparable harm to students and their families.”
Education for African Americans in the United States has been a risk of death, a struggle for equality and a gift of knowledge all wrapped in one. As DeVos is tasked with ensuring education policies and equal access to education we remember the policy and equal access of Brown v. Education in honor of Black History Month.
Lest We Forget Brown Vs. The Board Education Ruling 1954:
The unanimous Court wrote that a quality education was crucial for all children and ruled that it was the state’s responsibility to ensure educational equality:
Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms