Brief #31—Education Policy

Policy Summary
Over the past two years, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, has gone out of her way to roll back federal regulations, completely in tow with the Trump administration. Shortly after President Trump took office, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights released a statement to agency investigators. The memo stated that the office would no longer recognize “systemic” bias in regards to individual claims of discrimination in schools, but instead they hoped to roll through individual cases at an even quicker speed than the previous administration. For civil right’s activist it raised red flags, but many were left remotely unconcerned. However, today, we now know this was an indication of the agency’s overall future approach toward issues of racial discrimination and civil rights execution.

Policy Analysis
According to ProPublica’s examination of approximately 40,000 civil rights cases, a mere fifteen months after President Trump took office, the department of education, closed over 1,200 Obama-era, civil rights investigations, lasting at least six months each. The closed investigations ranged from issues from discriminatory punishments to sexual assault. Under Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, the policy changes had allowed the dismissal of over 500 disability rights accusations, by this past April. The changes from one administration to the next were night and day. Under President Obama’s administration nearly 70 percent of cases of discrimination toward students with limited English skills were upheld versus the 52 percent under the current administration. In general, the number of cases confirmed regarding the individualized educational needs of disabled students has dropped from 45 percent under the former administration to 34 percent this year. Sexual harassment and violence cases have also dropped by ten percent each.

Sadly, DeVos may be moving forward without much fuss as only 3% of Americans rank education at the top of their list of concerns our country faces. The silver lining of the year is that Democrats have assumed control of the House of Representatives as the result of this year’s midterm elections, for the first time in eight years. Democrats’ won the House but the Senate and White House  still remain under Republican power. Therefore, it is doubtful that there will be excessive changes in policies carried out by DeVos. Nevertheless, with control of committee chairs, there is much anticipation of House Democrats utilizing their oversight authority to compel DeVos to change direction in the upcoming year. In fact, a number of newly elected chairs have specifically indicated intentions to examine DeVos’ policies, using their oversight authority, giving many Americans hope the new year will welcome changes in how Washington manages education, especially the execution of civil rights for our children country-wide.

Americans can expect much debate over how DeVos has handled civil rights issues, primarily from Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia. Rep. Scott, a former civil rights attorney, has made clear his determination to clearly answer whether the Department of Education is upholding its responsibilities to defend the civil rights of students throughout the United States. Currently, Scott serves as the Ranking Member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce. Previously, Scott has taken great initiative opposing the administration’s decisions on issues of racial bias in schools, overall civil rights and how investigations into systemic bias and discrimination have thus far been handled. Under Scott, the House Education and the Workforce committee is expected to look into  state plans to implement the successor to Every Student Succeeds Act, No Child Left Behind and to make sure any modifications are complicit with the law. Many civil rights groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, have argued that some of the plans implanted by DeVos do not live up to Every Student Succeeds Act’s protections for at-risk children.

There is no doubt DeVos is facing considerable pressure begot from oversight but this does not necessarily mean that DeVos will handle issues of civil rights in our school systems any differently than she has in the past. Thus far the Secretary has kept on the path of her and President Trump’s agenda, regardless of public opinion or setbacks. The president’s very open support of DeVos’ decisions may bolster the Secretary of Education, but the change in the House, especially in respects to Rep. Scott’s mission, will undeniably shake up issues and may cause DeVos to reconsider some of her policy decisions.

This Brief was posted by USRESIST NEWS Education Policy Analyst Erin Mayer Contact:

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