Thanks to COVID-19, many parents at home with their children are finding new respect for public schools and the educators that make them run. All week, I’ve heard from frazzled friends and co-workers who are anxiously awaiting next week when DCPS returns from spring break and distance learning begins. Now, more than ever we need to fund schools and make sure safeguards are in place so that EVERY student has access to a quality education.
That’s why I was incensed to learn that not only does Senator Mitch McConnell’s proposal for a third stimulus package NOT include any additional educational funds to help schools and parents adapt in this time of crisis, but also would allow Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to completely disregard an enormous range of federal requirements for K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and career and technical education programs. It also asks DeVos to consider ways to opt out of laws that protect the educational rights of students with disabilities.
To be clear, this is not a narrow waiver that would understandably allow school districts to forgo annual statewide tests during the pandemic. This is throwing out multiple laws that protect the 90 percent of K-12 students who attend public schools, all college students, and anyone who has federal student debt—and allows Betsy DeVos to say what replaces them.
The same Betsy DeVos who called public schools a “dead end.” The same Betsy DeVos who disastrously expanded the deregulation of charter schools in her home state to the detriment of Black and brown children. The same Betsy DeVos who was held in contempt of court for attempting to collect student loans from defrauded borrowers—and rebuked by both houses of Congress by Republicans and Democrats—for trying to enact regulations to do the same. The same Betsy DeVos who didn’t know it was her job to enforce federal special education law—and after she learned it was her job, still illegally refused to enforce it.
It’s already bad enough that McConnell and his ilk are pushing a deregulatory agenda that could strip protections and resources from vulnerable students and borrowers. The fact that they’re exploiting a global public health crisis to do it is all the more repugnant.
If Congress wants to actually make sure that folks continue to have educational opportunities during this pandemic, they should boost financial aid to help college students take care of basic needs, such as housing and child care. For the many borrowers who are and will become economically insecure, Congress should provide meaningful student debt relief so there’s one less bill to worry about. And for our youngest learners, Congress should make sure children don’t go hungry, can participate in distance learning, and have the mental health to persevere in these strange and uncertain times.