Politics is one of the subjects that I stay away from in conversation in many instances. In most cases, it involves me getting painted into a corner by someone who cannot have a civil debate or me preaching to a crowd of people who feel the same way I do. However, in such a case where I feel as though my future profession will be largely contingent on political matters, this is something I must voice.
For those of you who don't know, I'm planning on majoring in history with secondary and special education certification. One of my courses I'm taking this semester is entitled "Instruction for Diverse Learners," a class that focuses on methodology for teaching children with disabilities. As part of this class we are to do work in the local Madison school corporation and I had my first day this past Thursday. In my time at Madison Junior High School, one thing was evident to me: the school systems set up children with special needs to fail. I observed a middle school student who couldn't spell the word "family." I watched as students continually tried to skip their required writing because they all hate it. I watched as students struggled to read paragraphs that were far below their grade level. For many of these students, it isn't that they cannot do it, but school moves fast and often if a student gets behind too much in a skill such as reading, writing or math, they're placed in special education. Essentially it seems as though when the children fall too far behind special education is the only option. What there should be is a net that helps to give children individualized attention on the things they really need help on and get them back on track. If special education is necessary, then by all means have the child in there. However, if the only reason they're in special education is because they need massive help, have a system to do that.
This is where the politics comes in. Among Donald Trump's appointees to his cabinet is Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education. In her conformation hearing, Senator Tim Kaine asked her about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and whether or not all schools -public, private or charter- should be required to meet the requirements. DeVos responded by saying she thinks "they already are." Kaine was dissatisfied as he was asking whether they should not are and DeVos responded by saying it was best "left up to the states." When DeVos began trailing off from the question, Senator Maggie Hassan asked if she knew IDEA was a federal law, and DeVos responded "I may have confused it." This is most concerning to me because DeVos is the Secretary of Education and doesn't know federal law on education. If she knows most of it, clearly she missed one of it's most important laws, as IDEA gives all children an access to a free education. DeVos has already expressed a desire to privatize schooling which would likely take away money from already struggling public schools.
The position of DeVos doesn't surprise me. Trump's vice president, Mike Pence, said in the vice presidential debate that Indiana was making "record investments" in education. In inflation-adjusted dollars, Pence was telling the truth as investment has increased 5.6 percent in his time as governor. However, what Pence said also hides a big part of the story. In his 2015 budget, Pence allocated more funds to suburban schools while cutting funding in struggling urban schools. Indianapolis Public Schools, one of the worst districts in the state, lost 16.9 million dollars as a result of this plan.
As Secretary of Education, I hope DeVos truly stands to provide all American children with an access to not only an education, but a good education. I hope that DeVos understands that the consequences of allocating funds in a way that further deprives already struggling school districts helps those that are set up to be successful while taking away from school systems where kids are in poverty and are set up for failure. The kids in IPS, in Madison, and poorly funded districts all over Indiana and the country need an advocate to promote educational equality. I hope DeVos provides that.