The Senate needs to ask the secretary of education nominee some tough questions at her confirmation hearing, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation has some good suggestions.
FFRF is concerned about Betsy DeVos' suitability for the position. FFRF contends that if confirmed, DeVos would work to dismantle public education and fund unaccountable private religious schools — causing great harm to children and taxpayers alike. So, Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor have sent members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee a number of pointed queries for her.
In her home state of Michigan, DeVos funded an unsuccessful campaign seeking to repeal important provisions of the state's Constitution that prohibit appropriation of public funds for the benefit of religiously segregated schools. Many other state constitutions wisely prohibit the state from providing such aid. Department of Education programs often rely on states to manage federal grants that are then provided to local schools. As secretary of education, would DeVos uphold the right of states to abide by their constitutions and limit funding to religious schools?
DeVos has strongly advocated for public funding of vouchers for private (mostly religious) schools. Such programs have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to private religious schools in many states. Why should all taxpayers shoulder the burden of these schools in a country that has a long tradition of keeping state and church separate?
DeVos has complained that churches have been displaced by our public schools as the center of the community, and has even stated that public tax dollars should be used to "advance God's Kingdom." Yet a quarter of adults and more than a third of Millennials today identify as nonreligious. And the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled consistently for more than 65 years that children of diverse views must be protected from religious indoctrination in our publicly funded schools. The only experience DeVos has in the education field is as a lobbyist for publicly paid vouchers. If she were confirmed, would it not be like the proverbial fox guarding the chicken coop?
School voucher programs in a number of states have been inundated with fraud and improper expenditures. Where public money goes, public accountability should follow. But unfortunately, that accountability is intrinsically lacking with voucher schools. What measures would DeVos take to ensure that schools receiving public money are accountable to taxpayers?
One of the functions of the Department of Education is to protect civil rights and ensure equal educational opportunities for students. Does DeVos believe that schools receiving public money should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of disability, religion, or sexual orientation?
The United States lags behind many industrialized countries in science education. For instance, it ranked 33 out of 34 countries assessed on the acceptance of evolution, finishing ahead of only Turkey. In a run for Michigan governor in 2006, DeVos' husband, Richard, told the Associated Press that he supported teaching "intelligent design" along with evolution in science classes. Will she advocate for teaching genuine science in all public-supported schools and oppose the teaching of unscientific and untestable religious opinions in the science curriculum?
The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee should demand good answers from DeVos to these questions so that it can determine her fitness for directing our country's education policy — and shaping our children's future.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization representing more than 26,000 members across the nation, including members in every state. It also represents the views of the more than 70 million adult Americans today who identify as nonreligious. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between religion and government, and to educate the public about nonbelief.
Photo by Keith A. Almli CC BY-SA 3.0