Education nominee Betsy DeVos found herself in a bit of hot water the day after her confirmation hearing after seemingly bumbling a question about IDEA – federal legislation that requires education for students with special needs until the age of 21. When asked about schools having to comply with IDEA if they receive federal money, DeVos answered:
“I think that is a matter best left to the states”
Few Americans outside of the education/disability community have any clue what IDEA is or what it says, but that didn’t stop the left-wing press from ginning up the outrage machine, claiming DeVos must be ignorant of the federal legislation and that must certainly disqualify her as a nominee.
Later in questioning, DeVos seemingly clarified her remarks saying:
“Federal law must be followed where federal dollars are in play.”
There has been much discussion about DeVos’ response, even among her conservative supporters. Many are concerned that any nominee should have been well-versed in the legislation and been able to speak directly to it.
However, when put in the light of her complete testimony, DeVos’ statement shouldn’t be considered much more than a thought consistent with her entire view of education. DeVos’ answer on enforcing gun control in schools is a prime example. I generally don’t quote myself but my op ed on that portion of her testimony makes my point.
DeVos’ remarks were not about guns or gun control. They were really about the bigotry of forced uniformity. People in Wyoming have different needs than people in Washington D.C., as do their children. It is beyond common sense to force people in each region of the country to live in the exact same manner. To flip the script – would Senator Murphy prefer that every classroom in a D.C. school be required to house a rifle, the way that rural school in Wyoming might?
Education was originally put within the purview of each state because the best way to craft a just and thorough approach is to let the local community decide how that education is best served. The direct-service providers are the ones most likely to have a positive understanding of the unique needs of their students and schools. Farming that job out to lifelong Capitol Hill employees who don’t interact with teachers or students in any way robs our children of a tailored, personal education.
As a decades-long advocate of civil rights in education, DeVos’ view of education stems from her deeply held belief that states and municipalities should be free to choose what options work best for their population. Her view of government in education is firmly rooted in federalism and her answer was completely consistent with that point of view.
Perhaps the more diplomatic answer would have been what she eventually followed up with, which is that federal law should be followed where federal dollars are in play. The fact that she pivoted to clarify that point seems to indicate that she understood her original answer was not satisfactory. It in no way implies she didn’t know what what IDEA was in the first place.
The assignment of ignorance to DeVos’ statement is simply based on the bias of those who would never approve of a Betsy DeVos in Washington, D.C. in the first place. There’s an argument to be made that her answer is inartful, but it is silliness to suppose DeVos despises students with disabilities or doesn’t believe their education should be provided for.
Besides, even if it were true that she just had no clue what this legislation was…she can read. It’s not that hard to catch up.
The outrage machine needs it’s fuel, and this week it seems to be Betsy DeVos.