Goodbye, DeVos urges Congress to reject Biden’s policies

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In a farewell letter to Congress on Monday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged lawmakers to reject President-elect Joe Biden’s education program, while imploring them to protect the policies of the Trump administration that Biden promised to eliminate.

DeVos does not explicitly acknowledge the electoral defeat of President Donald Trump, nor does he refer to Biden by name. Instead, his letter offers lawmakers “encouragement and final thoughts.” As DeVos prepares to leave the Department of Education, she says the coronavirus pandemic has revealed a lot of “not encouraging” things about education in the United States.

“Although my time as a secretary is limited, my time as an advocate for children and students knows no limits,” she said in the letter, obtained by The Associated Press. It was sent to House and Senate leaders and to committees that oversee the Department of Education.

DeVos offered an unemotional farewell to a Congressman who had a cold relationship with her from the start. Its confirmation in the 2017 Senate required a decisive vote from Vice President Mike Pence, and it has remained a lingering target for Democrats in both chambers.

DeVos made no mention of these disputes, but instead offered “sincere gratitude for your partnership” on a range of education-related issues. Most of its major policies, however, were passed through federal regulation, not legislation passed by Congress. In her letter, she pledged to continue working with Congress “to do what’s right for American students”.

Much of the letter serves as the last call for school choice legislation that DeVos pushed for almost two years without securing the support of Democrats and many Republicans. The proposal would provide tax breaks for donations to organizations that sponsor students attending private schools or other alternatives to traditional public education.

Critics said the idea amounted to a federal voucher program, but DeVos said it would allow families to choose the best options for their children – an issue she said has become increasingly prominent in the midst of of the pandemic.

“Many students – especially our most vulnerable students – suffer immeasurable harm from schools failing to reopen and educate,” she writes. “Frankly, the ‘system’ has never figured out how to rehabilitate students on a large scale, and I fear it may be unable to achieve any school recovery now.

READ MORE: DeVos used personal emails to work in ‘limited’ cases, federal investigators say

While his letter condemns the schools’ response to the pandemic, DeVos does not specify how to reopen. She has previously denied that it’s her job to orchestrate a reopening, saying decisions are best left to local leaders.

For months, Trump and DeVos have urged schools to reopen for in-person classes even as many principals say they lack the resources to do so safely. Biden has made it a priority to reopen schools within the first 100 days and says federal agencies will guide districts in their decisions.

More broadly, DeVos urged Congress to direct federal education funding directly to families rather than schools. She argued that teacher unions and interest groups are more concerned with supporting “the system” than students. She said elementary and secondary school funding should be treated more like federal grants for colleges, which go directly to students to attend schools of their choice.

“Given this precedent of choice and empowerment, it is impossible to understand how it is acceptable for federal taxpayer funds to support a student who attends the University of Notre Dame, but not a student who wishes to attend Notre Dame. Prep High School, ”she wrote.

Throughout his campaign, Biden characterized DeVos as an enemy of public schools, unqualified to lead the education department. He won the support of teachers’ unions after promising to appoint an education chief who, unlike DeVos, had work experience in public education.

Biden’s candidate, Miguel Cardona, is the state education chief in Connecticut and a former teacher and deputy superintendent in a public district. He called attention to his work to close student achievement gaps and advocate for schools to reopen during the pandemic.

DeVos’ letter directly opposes several of Biden’s top education priorities, including his proposal to triple federal Title I funding for schools serving low-income students. The letters indicate that federal funding for education has already tripled since 1960, but has failed to translate into better results on standardized tests.

She also lambasted proposals to make college free for some students and to write off huge swathes of student debt, both of which were backed by Biden.

“I hope you also reject the misguided calls to make college ‘free’ and that two-thirds of Americans who have not incurred student debt or who have responsibly paid off student loans must pay off student loans. those who haven’t done the same, ”she said.

At the same time, she called on Congress to preserve its recently enacted rules on dealing with sexual assault on campus. The policy strengthens protections for defendants and reduces the scope of cases that colleges must investigate. DeVos says this ensures fairness for all students, but survivor advocacy groups say it weakens protections for victims.

Biden has vowed to reverse DeVos’ policies and bring back the Obama-era directions that she replaced. In his appeal to Congress, DeVos says his rules “restore fairness to campuses by respecting the rights of all students.”

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