I've been sick for the past few days and that has given me quite a bit of time to ponder (and sneeze). For the past almost 17 years I've been in the K-12 Education Finance side of Public Education in Minnesota. If you know me in that world, I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to my passion for what I do and being able to help the districts I work for...my motto is " It's my mission to spread the love of school finance!".
It's been a challenging time for many in the Education circles...Tuesday, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education...I won't go into her whole story here (you can read it all over the internet), but in my humble opinion it didn't seem like "education" was on the top of the list of experiences needed for this position with DeVos as the nominee.
The moments in life when I feel like something so clear, so obvious, I find myself dumbfounded when I hear or read a different point of view, that, on its face, makes no sense to me. So the first thing I did was try to find out why of all the people in the United States, why DeVos? And frankly, after reading though pages of web results I'm still not sure I know. It did make sense to me that Michelle Rhee was an option because of her education history, but she backed out, apparently leading to a meeting with DeVos in November (Detroit News, 11/23/16). The only conclusion I can come up with her alignment with charters & school choice.
The next question I had was, how could Senators vote for her, knowing how little experience she had. Again, after searching I couldn't really find any understanding. "Excellent choice", "great leader", and her commitment to every child were the responses I found. NPR had a short interview with a Republican Senator from OK that made it almost appear that DeVos won't be doing much other than listening and learning, so why not DeVos??
It seems I may never really find out how so many people think that this was the best we can do when it comes to finding a leader for providing the most critical need we have as a society, education.
I can't argue against those who have had such passionate responses to this leadership choice (because I really do think we could do better), but I do feel we may be able to find some hope.
For general public education, federal funding and oversight is usually the smallest part of a district's budget, and it has been noted in many things I've read, the majority of educational decisions happen at the State level. But from my perspective, the Federal revenues received usually funnel to those students who need extra help. Whether it's poverty, learning challenges, special education, or targeted groups, those dollars provide the enhanced programming and staffing needed for those students.
If the intent is to reshuffle funds currently going to public schools then challenges will arise on how to address needs without funding (the famous "unfunded mandates"). If the idea is that funding AND students will be reshuffled to different education options then we must consider what that means to the student and staff make-up of those educational sites. Will we be able to continue to meet the needs of the students no matter where they attend?
So you might be asking yourself, where is the hope? My hope lies in the thought that children with special needs are not partisan. There were several Republican Senators that reached out to DeVos to be assured that she would not dismantle these critical programs, and while a pledge is no guarantee, it seems a massive change in how funding flows to these programs may not be on the priority list.
Now I know what you might be saying - how can I even believe this? And I know, it's something I'm asking myself...even as I type this. But I just don't believe the intent is to dismantle the Title Program funding or Special Education.
My other hope lies in the idea that Education policy belongs at the State level. It seems Republicans would like to get out of the business of Education policy, and that may not be a bad thing...but it can become terribly bad if the current funding isn't re-directed to the States for those critical needs areas. The next fear would be if this rolls out and even if funds are flowing to the states, will they end up where they currently are or will programming be negatively impacted?
Okay...so hope might be getting a little blurry here, but the other feeling I have is that sometimes we need a challenge to circle the wagons and help come up with solutions. DeVos has admitted she's got a lot to learn - and now is the time to make sure impacts are understood all the way down to the local level - district - school - student.
Regardless of political affiliation, I think most people care about kids...a lot. And, honestly, there is no shortage of ideas, issues, and concerns about K-12 Education. Even education advocates are asking for change, or at least acknowledgement that one-size fits all isn't effective when our educational environments are as unique as the students in the classroom.
To be honest, I need a little hope right now - no, I need a lot of hope. And for all of the recent actions and activities that have occurred, my hope is that our country is full of people with passion, ideas, solutions, and a willingness to not just talk, but to listen. Our ears are as an important of a conduit as our lips...let us find those things we can come together on and work towards improvement, no matter how slow it might be.
If you read this and you think I'm nuts, I understand...I might read this tomorrow or next week and wonder what I was thinking...but for now, I'm thinking my heart needs some hope and seeking solutions are more important the pointing out problems...so solution finder it is!!
Thanks for reading...and more importantly, if you are willing to look for some hope, please share!!