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Betsy DeVos: What does her confirmation mean to us?

The 2016 election cycle was no doubt full of controversy, strong opinions and unrest. Issues from healthcare to border patrol were debated upon month after month (felt like years, really) with little resolve. Our educational system was no exception to the controversy and debate of this cycle. Until recently, Senator Bernie Sanders headlined the education debates with his stance on higher education affordability. However, this past month a new name in the education politics has stolen the headlines. President Trump’s Secretary of Education pick, Betsy DeVos broke onto the scene with her lack luster confirmation hearing performance last month. America was left in traditionally unchartered territory of not knowing if President Trump’s pick would be confirmed at all.

However, as of this past Tuesday, America now knows that answer. In a 51-50 vote (tie broken, by Vice President Pence) the U.S. Senate confirmed DeVos to the position of Secretary of Education. Now we must wonder what her confirmation means to the current educational landscape.

We admit it is not in the typical Kids in the Game wheelhouse to blog about politics. However, the landscape of our nation’s educational system directly affects organizations, like us, that do direct programming within public, private and charter schools. The confirmation of Betsy DeVos presents an interesting ideology change in our country’s current educational system. With a conscious effort to present the facts, we will explore who DeVos is and how her confirmation could affect Kids in the Game and New York City Schools.

Who is Betsy DeVos? She is a Michigan native that describes herself as a philanthropist and education activist. She is an advocate for school of choice, a system that utilizes the voucher system. Politico reported President Trump campaigned on a $20 billion proposal government funded voucher program making his pick of DeVos not overly surprising. The voucher system would allow families the financial flexibility to choose schools for their children. For example, a child would be able to attend a private school that they could not afford prior to receiving a voucher. We can all agree that $20 billion dollars is a significant amount of money and that money will need to come from somewhere. Most likely, that somewhere will be the current public educational budget. Meaning, while some students will be able to go to a private school of their choice, public schools potentially lose general funding.

It is no secret that the first programs cut in financial burden are arts, physical education and after school programs. According to a report city Controller Scott Stringer put out in 2015 32% of NYC schools currently do not provide physical education. More alarmingly 600,000 New York City K-12 graders are reported to “take care of themselves” after school already. In efforts to lower these statistics, NYC mayor Bill de Blasio introduced a $100 million initiative for physical education programs in the city last spring. DeVos and de Balasio aligning very differently on funding issues will be something to watch.

What else does DeVos believe?

1. While like many political events, DeVos Congressional hearing provided a lot of questions with few firm answers. One of the more interesting questions poised at the hearing to DeVos, by Senator Tim Kaine, was her take on providing funding for students requiring special education. DeVos repeated her stance of leaving that decision up to the individual states. Dependent on which side New York State would choose to be on - fund or not - would greatly impact the educational landscape of New York City. Families requiring special education programs for their child would potentially be forced to reevaluate where they reside.

2. Commonly connected to DeVos are charter schools. Charter schools are tax-payer funded but privately ran schools that traditionally have more flexibility in curriculum, hiring practices, and are occasionally owned by for-profit entities. DeVos has promoted charter schools in her home state of Michigan, particularly in urban Detroit. In general, support of charter schools has come from both sides of the political aisle. So it would seem that DeVos’ connection with charter schools wouldn’t be too hot of a topic. However, it is important to note that in Detroit 80% of the charter schools are for-profit and are not subjected to strict performance standards due, in part, to DeVos lobbying against firmer evaluations.

New York has taken a different approach to charter schools than Detroit and originally capped the number of operating charters to 100 statewide until it could be definitively proven there is educational benefit from this style of school. Currently there are 183 charter schools in New York City and any with Department of Education accreditation are set to the same standards as traditional public schools. With a DeVos cabinet-ship confirmed, the questions of how charters will be evaluated, funded and expanded upon need to be asked.

A full fact sheet of the history of charter schools in New York can be found here.

3. Citing a small town in Wyoming, DeVos showed support for guns in schools for situational grizzly bear trespassing. How does this affect KING and NYC schools, you say? Considering, grizzly bears do not inhabit the state of New York (unless you count the Bronx Zoo) we should naturally stay pretty safe from those darn grizzlies. All jokes aside, gun violence is a topic that will continue to be of both great importance and great debate in our country. With school security currently at all-time high it is something to keep a close eye on.

*It should also be noted that DeVos did not provide a definitive answer if only schools with potential bear invasions would be allowed on on-campus guns.

As of today, DeVos is our Secretary of Education. As our country continues to transition to new leadership and a new presidency, Kids in the Game’s mission remains the same: we strive to provide opportunities through sport and fitness to as many children in New York City as possible regardless of what neighborhood they are from or what school they attend.

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