If you’ve ever wanted to know the qualifications of a public official, you have that right to know. You can investigate their background, ask questions and read up on their background, quite often online these days.
In the realm of public education, you’ll notice the vast majority of superintendents bring strong backgrounds from the classroom to the table when they rule the parish or county.
It’s been the case with Livingston Parish school system Superintendent Rick Wentzel, as it was the case with predecessor John Watson and most of the heads before them. Peruse through resumes for the top educational supervisors in East Baton Rouge, Ascension, Iberville, Tangipahoa, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana … and yes, you’ll see the same credentials come into play.
Apparently, it’s not important on the federal level, where billionaire Betsy Devos was confirmed Tuesday morning as secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, despite no background in education.
She further demonstrated her lack of knowledge about public schools during confirmation hearings last week when she admitted little or no understanding to the debate among educators on whether test scores should measure a student’s proficiency. DeVos also suggested that guns in schools could protect students “from potential grizzlies.”
Vice President Mike Pence’s vote on the 50-50 Senate tie will relegate our nation’s public schools into the oversight of a leader who has never set foot in a classroom. It marked the first time in history that the vice president had to break a vote on a confirmation.
The DeVos nomination offers nothing to boost struggling public school systems and works against the successful systems, such as the one we cherish here in Livingston Parish.
The next overseer of our nation’s educational system is the wife of Dick DeVos Jr., a billionaire who made his fortune off Amway, the multi-level marketing company known for its “pyramid schemes” – the folks who come to your house to sell you on what they tout as a “no-fail get rich quick scheme.”
Dick and Betsy DeVos raised their four children in Ada, Michigan, an affluent suburb near Grand Rapids. In the pattern practicing their freedom of choice in education, they sent their two of their children to private schools and home-schooled the others.
At the same time, they’ve used their wealth to fund moves toward vouchers for private schools and push an agenda to vastly deplete revenue from the public school system. Betsy DeVos put Scott Jensen at the helm of the legislative front to push her agenda for the “American Federation for Children,” to push education reforms.
Keep in mind that education reforms and ethical reforms are not synonymous. The Michigan State Court convicted Jensen in 2005 of misusing tax dollars for political purpose, and for directing state employees to perform campaign work at taxpayer expense.
DeVos also pushed heavily for “school choice” vouchers which used public tax dollars to send students to private schools, a move which former Gov. Bobby Jindal and current Louisiana Department of Education Secretary John White have commandeered.
It’s ironic that President Trump pushed for DeVos as head of our educational system, considering he campaigned on promises to “drain the swamp” of individuals and special interest groups who use their vast financial reserves to push an agenda.
Republican Sens.Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska both said last week they would not vote to confirm DeVos, while several of their fellow GOP seat-holders remained on the fence.
Many public school systems deserve the criticism bestowed on them, but many others have done a fantastic job of providing a great education for our next generation.
Livingston Parish has been at the forefront of that distinction, most recently with a No. 3 ranking in the state. Keep in mind that not one charter school operates in the parish, another testimonial to the fine performance by our school system.
It’s the kind of accomplishment that means nothing to Betsy DeVos, who would love nothing more than to obliterate the right to a free public education, an objective of our Founding Fathers in 1776.
The confirmation of Betsy DeVos will lead public education on a dark path of uncertainty and force public dollars to further push privatized schools.
Most importantly, her confirmation delivers a hard slap to the face of students, faculty members and administrators here in Livingston Parish.