Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The deep irony in Betsy DeVos’s first speech on special education - The Washington Post

The deep irony in Betsy DeVos’s first speech on special education - The Washington Post:

The deep irony in Betsy DeVos’s first speech on special education

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos just gave her first major speech about special education — and it raised new questions about her understanding of the issues that students with disabilities face. Again, exactly six months after the first ones.
DeVos, a Michigan billionaire who has called traditional public schools a “dead end,” has had something of a troubled past in talking about this issue. At her confirmation hearing on Jan. 17, before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, she answered a question about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), indicating that she didn’t know it was a federal law that all states had to enforce.
IDEA requires public schools to provide a free and appropriate education to all students with disabilities, and in her response, she said that she thought it was up to the states to decide on IDEA enforcement. She was later asked if she was unaware that IDEA was a federal law, and she conceded, “I may have confused it.”
Then in a letter to supposedly clarify her perplexing comment at that hearing, she said she knows IDEA is a federal law and said she wants to provide students with disabilities more educational opportunities, which is in line with her antiabortion agenda.  But in that letter, rather than talk about how traditional public school districts can improve their offerings for these children, she praised a voucher program in Ohio that allows eligible families of special needs students to use public funds to attend a private school. What she didn’t mention, however, was that the program — as well as most other voucher programs  — requires participating families to agree to give up special education due-process rights they are given under IDEA.
At that time, Denise Marshall, executive director of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) issued a statement that said in part:
It’s clear that Betsy DeVos is not, nor has ever been an advocate for children with disabilities. The fact that she didn’t understand the basics about education concepts or the three essential federal education laws is embarrassing and her lack of knowledge on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is appalling. We are alarmingly concerned. Furthermore, she advocates for vouchers writ large — as if they can solve every family’s dilemma.