DeVoid of the Need of Special Needs Students: The Absolute DeVastation of Betsy DeVos

If you do not remember the confirmation hearings of Betsy DeVos from a little over two years ago, here is a refresher:

  1. She did not know what IDEA was – the Individuals With Disablilties Edcuation Act – and that it was a federal mandate that covers all schools.
  2. She did not know the difference between growth and proficiency when it came to student achievement.
  3. She would not commit to keeping from privatizing public schools.
  4. She talked about needing guns to defend schools from bears but would not back up “gun-free” zones in schools. Bears killed exactly zero students last year. She said that to Sen. Murphy from Connecticut, home of Sandy Hook
  5. She never really admitted to the fact that she and her family have contributed tens of millions of dollars to efforts to privatize public schools.
  6. She has not given over all documents for the ethics committee.
  7. 10 of the 12 Republicans on the HELP committee had received financial contributions from her.
  8. She smiled to damn much. It simply looked manufactured.

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There is a Washington Post video entitled “6 head-scratching moments from Betsy DeVos’s confirmation hearing” which summarizes some of the more poignant moments of the hearing.

It’s the first item that I as a parent of a child who happens to have Down Syndrome and also resides on the autism spectrum still thinks about on a daily basis. The very person who controls the highest office in the land for public education was (and still is) ignorant of the very law that ensures that my son receives a quality education.

For parents like me (and actually many parents of typical students), the need for the whole child to be nurtured and nourished is paramount. Physical education and athletic opportunities are actually some of the most vital therapies a child with disabilities can receive.

And for many parents of children with disabilities, the costs for getting vital help and therapy can be back-breaking. That’s why federally-supported programs such as Special Olympics are so significant and meaningful.

Yet, the very person who showed she had no “idea” of what IDEA was now wants to take money from the very program that so many students with disabilities are involved in to give to other reforms that actually exclude children with disabilities.

From the Detroit Free Press on March 26th:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday defended deep cuts to programs meant to help students and others, including eliminating $18 million to support Special Olympics, while urging Congress to spend millions more on charter schools.

“We are not doing our children any favors when we borrow from their future in order to invest in systems and policies that are not yielding better results,” DeVos said in prepared testimony before a House subcommittee considering the Department of Education’s budget request for the next fiscal year….

While proposing to add $60 million more to charter school funding and create a tax credit for individual and companies that donate to scholarships for private schools, DeVos’ budget proposal would still cut more than $7 billion from the Education Department, about 10 percent of its current budget. Trump proposed a $4.7 trillion overall budget this month with an annual deficit expected to run about $1 trillion.

In the case of the $17.6 million cut to help fund the Special Olympics, a program designed to help children and adults with disabilities, DeVos suggested it is better supported by philanthropy and added, “We had to make some difficult decisions with this budget.”

Over $17 million to be taken away from Special Olympics because it is “better supported by philanthropy?”

If DeVos still has not found out, many students like my son will not ever be accepted into a private school nor could we afford one. His father is a public school teacher in North Carolina. Plus charter schools in NC, as well as other states, do not usually have the bandwidth to educate a child like mine.

What children like my son do benefit from is having smaller class sizes, teacher assistants, technological aids for communication, and a school staff that has been trained to help children of all learning styles and backgrounds as well as athletic avenues to build their bodies and create relationships.

DeVos may call them “redundant” or “ineffective” and suggest we take money away from them to give to charters. I call them necessary and essential. In fact, they are very much a part of the concept of the Individuals With Disablilties Edcuation Act, the very law that DeVos is supposed to uphold.

Speaking of charters, it was interesting to read the latest report by the Network for Public Education entitled “Asleep at the Wheel.”  From its Executive Summary:

This report details the Network for Public Education’s two month examination of the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP). Our investigation found a troubling pattern of insufficient applicant review, contradictions between information provided by applicants and available public data, the gifting of funds to schools with inadequate financial and governance plans, a push-out of large grants to the states with little supervision by the department, and the waste of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

By comparing claims made by charter grant applicants to information on state databases and school websites, we found numerous examples of federal tax dollars being misspent due to an inattentive process that routinely accepts applicants’ claims without scrutiny.

Talk about “ineffective.” And the amount of wasted money? Nearly a billion dollars.

That’s money that could go to the very endeavors that help children with disabilities in public schools. That’s money that could go to Special Olympics. That’s money that could stay helping the public good instead of lining pockets of private schools and privately run charter schools.

But alas, Betsy DeVos has already shown she has no idea when it comes to IDEA.

And she certainly does not have my child’s best interest at heart.