DeVos’ time in office was plagued by a rather cool relationship with Congress, beginning with a confirmation hearing that required a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence.
Outgoing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged lawmakers to reject President-elect Joe Biden’s education agenda in a farewell letter she wrote to Congress on Monday.
In a letter first obtained by the Associated Press, DeVos asked members of Congress to protect Trump administration education policies, which Biden has pledged to eliminate, and reject changes in education policy. The letter was addressed to leaders in the House and Senate committees that oversee the Department of Education.
“I hope you reject misguided calls to make college ‘free’ and require the two-thirds of Americans who didn’t take on student debt or who responsibly paid off their student loans to pay for the loans of those who have not done the same,” DeVos wrote.
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The education secretary does not acknowledge President Donald Trump’s defeat in her letter, and she does not mention Biden by name. Instead, she offers “some encouragement and closing thoughts” as she leaves the department. But she also pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic exposed many elements that “are not encouraging,” about the US public education system.
DeVos’ time in office was plagued by a rather cool relationship with Congress, beginning right off the bat with a confirmation hearing that required a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. As her tenure went on, she struggled to gain support for her legislation. In fact, most of her major policy successes were enacted through federal rule-making instead of through Congress.
DeVos worked tirelessly to push her own agenda, which focused heavily on school choice legislation. School choice policies vary between state, but essentially the movement advocates for allowing public school funding to go toward whatever learning model parents prefer, whether it’s a traditional public school, a charter school, or a private school (which already charge students tuition). Critics say school choice undermines the traditional public system, which educates the majority of children in the United States, and is already vastly underfunded.
DeVos aimed to implement legislation that would do just that, while criticizing public schools.
“Many students, particularly our most vulnerable students, are suffering immeasurable harm as a result of schools failing to reopen and failing to educate,” she wrote in her letter. “Quite frankly, the ‘system’ has never figured out how to remediate students at scale, and I’m concerned it is incapable of achieving any kind of academic recovery now.”
DeVos also argued that teachers’ unions and interest groups focused too much of their attention on supporting “the system” instead of supporting students. She felt that funding for grade schools and high schools should be treated like federal grants for college, which go to the student to use at the school of their choice.
“Given this precedent of choice and empowerment, it is impossible to understand how it is acceptable for federal taxpayer dollars to support a student attending the University of Notre Dame, but not for a student who wants to attend Notre Dame Prep High School,” she wrote.
Although DeVos condemned schools’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she offered no guidance on how to safely reopen schools. In previous months she denied that it was even her job to coordinate reopening and instead said that decisions should be left to local leaders. She and Trump both pushed schools to reopen in the midst of the pandemic, without providing additional support to do so safely. The two officials even threatened to pull funding from schools they did not reopen for in-person instruction.
Biden has promised to walk back many of DeVos’ policies, as well as bring back Obama-era guidance regarding the way colleges and universities handle campus sexual assault allegations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.