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Sun Tribune Editorial: Give DeVos skeptical support

Whether or not you are Trump supporter, the choice of Betsy DeVos as the nation's education secretary is difficult to stomach.

While DeVos said in a Feb. 8 speech after her selection as education secretary that students come first and she will work to find common ground, we need to be suspicious of those words. Yes, we need to give her a chance now that she is leading one of the most important foundations of America, but if we really care about the future of education in the U.S., we need to be cautious and watchful of DeVos.

She has not demonstrated a clear understanding or knowledge of topics at the core of education or even of the laws which provide education for students with disabilities. DeVos has never worked in public education and she should never be described as an advocate for public education.

DeVos is an advocate for school choice, particularly the voucher system. The voucher system would allow parents to use the tax money provided for their children's public school education and apply that to a private school. That's a short explanation.

And in several interviews and opinions DeVos has spoken in favor of privatizing public education or a free market education system.

But be careful of the concept of school choice and vouchers. Just who would get those choices? Would the per pupil unit funding provided for each student even be enough to pay tuition at a private school chosen by a parent? And remember, private schools don't have to accept every student who can pay or cannot pay.

What could a private education system look like? Why not have McDonald's start a school? Why not let several businesses start schools and compete for what once were dollars to provide access to public education for all of America's students?

Critics and supporters will point to Michigan, DeVos's home state, as an example of how efforts such as school choice have been successful. While many charter schools have started under school choice efforts studies show those schools are underperforming and have little oversight on how the public money is spent.

DeVos is also a conservative Christian, which is not a bad thing. But when even so many Christians have differing views on social and Biblical issues and topics, we should be skeptical of an education secretary who has ties to conservative Christian groups that could influence her decisions for public education.

Think of it this way: Let's say DeVos believes that Christ would want every child to say the Pledge of Allegiance, no exceptions, even for Christians who believe reciting the pledge violates their religious beliefs. Or what if DeVos was a Seventh Day Adventist who believes it is not appropriate for any school activities to be on a Saturday since that is the Sabbath Day?

And think of how DeVos could influence schools in Stevens County. If the education department pursues privatization and free market schools what happens in Hancock, Morris and Chokio-Alberta? Or in neighboring schools in Benson, Minnewaska, Lac qui Parle, etc. These are examples of fine public schools in this region.

What for profit entity will open a school in this region? How much money can it make on the region's students? Who would be accepted at this school? Would your student with a learning disability be accepted? How about your child with autism? Or your child with a B average? Would you need to pay more for you child with special needs to be enrolled? Or pay more for your child with a B average?

And what happens to St. Mary's in Morris? A fine private school in this region.

How could St. Mary's suffer? What core values are at risk for sacrifice in order to compete? If student centered education is to remain at the core of the school, will a funding system that favors the free market shortchange the school because it takes the time to teach the B average student and similar?

So, we can give DeVos a chance, but it's good to be skeptical and cautious. Our students, our public and private schools in this region, Minnesota and the U.S. deserve that.