Trump’s recent secretary of education pick, Betsy DeVos, has many educators, both future and present, sitting on the edge of their classroom chairs.
One major concern is DeVos’s previous work experience and her support for charter schools as a member of the Michigan Republican Party.
Donald Easton-Brooks, USD’s dean of education, said the new change in administration could be a challenge for educators and students.
“We have a secretary of education who’s unqualified, which makes it challenging for us as a nation to have someone with no experience in education to be one of the critical parts of education,” Easton-Brooks said. “If she comes in and invests in the system that we have in place to make it better, I think it would work.”
Easton-Brooks pointed out that one investment DeVos could make would be in both middle-class and lower-income school districts. DeVos has been a supporter for giving states the right to choose what happens with the allocation of their federal funding.
“If they say, ‘Okay, we’re going to give states control,’ that can create another level of bias,” Easton-Brooks said. “It’s a matter of who has the ability to advocate for money the best. We know the lower income schools really have needs, but what about the middle class?”
Lucas Bonham, a sophomore secondary education and history double major, has the same concern regarding funding in classrooms.
“It worries me as a future educator that wherever I may end up teaching at may not have the funds to provide the technology or other fundamental materials that I would need to teach in my classroom,” Bonham said. “I want to help educate the future of America.”
Morgan Hartenstein, a junior secondary education major, said teachers are still going to continue funding their classes as needed on their own.
“Even though I’m not happy with her nomination, teachers are still going to do what they’ve done every day for the past however many years,” Hartenstein said. “They’re still going to support their students and promote an inclusive classroom instead of an exclusive classroom.”
Regarding the Native American population in South Dakota, Easton-Brooks said funding could do more for those communities.
“If (state decision) comes here, we would invest in more of the tribal schools, and then we don’t really think about Sioux Falls or Rapid City or Vermillion, for that matter,” Easton-Brooks said. “It can make education slow down in some places, and possibly advance things in other places.”
Hartenstein said she’s concerned for students with disabilities, because DeVos said that enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal civil rights law, should be left up to the states.
“She should have been automatically disqualified (as secretary), especially about her regard for students with disabilities,” Hartenstein said. “For me, that was the most concerning thing, that she wasn’t going to be an advocate for them.”
Another hotly-debated topic among educators is the role of weapons, especially guns, in schools. DeVos said in a confirmation hearing that schools should allow guns because of potential grizzly bears. Hartenstein, who’s the secretary for the South Dakota Education Association’s chapter at USD, said guns and grizzlies don’t mix.
“I actually work in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming in the summers, so I thought that was very funny because I know that is not how you handle grizzly bears,” Hartenstein said. “While she feels that guns should be in the education system, she needs to give clear reason for that instead of citing a grizzly bear that doesn’t exist.”
The issue of religious freedom and the separation of church and state are two more areas that DeVos has seen criticism for.
According to the Washington Post, DeVos and other members of the new Trump administration have been associated with the Council for National Policy, a group with Christian interests for education that include dismantling the department of education and introducing God into classrooms.
“Let’s not do that,” Bonham said. “We’ve finally come to a point in the last 100 years where we have eliminated the standard of religious education and we’ve finally been able to progress as a society to better all individuals. I feel like they’re called back to the olden days.”
Easton-Brooks said DeVos and the new cabinet have a lot to say about the state of education in the first 100 days, which has made him lose confidence in the administration.
“Honestly, I don’t have confidence that she would do anything better,” Easton-Brooks said. “I hope that she would do things better, to be honest. There is a stigma that there’s something wrong with the field of education, and that’s really not the case. Education as a whole has something wrong with it, but I think it’s a problem that most politicians are promoting that something is wrong with education.”