This past Tuesday, June 6, 2017, Secretary Betsy DeVos gave testimony in front of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. An overview of Secretary DeVos’ testimony can be found on mlive here.
The presidential version of the 2018 budget details a whopping $10.6 Billion in cuts to programs supporting students of all levels. Last week, I posted what the effect of cuts to three Federal grant programs might be on Lowell Public Schools. Using a back-of-the-envelope estimate based on the FY2018 school budget proposal, Lowell Public Schools would be out close to $3 Million in funding for 21st Century Schools, Title II (Teacher Quality) and Title III (ELL support).
Layering on the devastation caused by a (state) Foundation Budget that is severely out of whack and underfunded, the fiscal future for urban districts such as Lowell does not look very bright. Several superintendents ago, the Lowell Schools had a Superintendent who told staff that “less is more”. Well, in this case, less is actually less, and our students are going to bear the brunt.
During her testimony in front of that Senate subcommittee, Ms. DeVos stated the need to cut Title funding (i.e., nearly everything funded through the Department of Education with the exception (so far) of Title I). As usual, making up facts that fit a narrative for redirecting federal funding was evident:
“This budget does so by putting an emphasis on programs that are proven to help students while taking a hard look at those that are well-intended, but haven’t yielded meaningful results,” she continued.
Where are the reports and research that back this up, Ms. DeVos? Are we to believe that providing students from higher poverty/economic need districts such as Lowell with after school and summer activities doesn’t yield anything “meaningful”? What exactly does constitutes meaningful for you? A higher test score?
I most vehemently disagree with that statement by Secretary DeVos. In a Gateway City, such as Lowell or Brockton, or any number of cities across the US, there are many families living in poverty and struggling. And despite many challenges, sometimes overwhelming challenges resulting from poverty and trauma, our Gateway cities strive to provide a comprehensive, adequate and free education to every student.
Allowing students the opportunity to participate in and explore activities beyond the school day gives these children a safe and supervised environment and their parents the peace of mind knowing that their child(ren) is well cared for during the time between the end of school and suppertime. I would call THAT meaningful, yet apparently Ms. DeVos would not.
But back to the federal budget that was the overarching topic of discussion during Ms. DeVos’ testimony. As Michigan billionaire and school privatization champion Ms. DeVos, is okay with cutting or eliminating funding of some of the more substantial federal grants. Using the theme of giving parents “choice” of school settings, the Secretary of Education intends to funnel the funds eliminated or cutback into a voucher program. funding religious and private schools. DeVos intends to implement a voucher program without guarantees that would protect vulnerable students’ rights or ethical oversight of for-profit education management firms even when federal funding is involved. For more on that, read Valerie Strauss’ June 6 Answer Sheet analysis.
In place of “less is more”, I am more inclined to agree with this assessment of the federal education budget proposals from Senator Leahy:
“The Department of Education budget can summed up very quickly in one word: ‘abysmal,'” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Abysmal it is. And abysmal it will be for our students.