Finley: Eliminate Betsy DeVos' job

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

From the day she was appointed, the education establishment and the rest of the left have been calling for Betsy DeVos' head. The education secretary is too rich, too conservative, and too critical of the public school status quo.

And her greatest sin — she's never been a teacher.

Except for the president himself, DeVos has been the biggest lightning rod of the Trump administration. The haters want her gone. And so do I.

Not because she's not doing great work. I think she is, particularly in the face of the irrational personal hostility directed toward her.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos addresses question from the Detroit News editorial board on Friday, Sep. 20, 2019, as part of her Back To School Tour.

I'd like to see DeVos put on the street because I believe the Education Department itself should go away. It's an unnecessary layer of education bureaucracy that hasn't worked in its 40-year existence to improve school performance.

"We've spent over $2 trillion at the federal level to try to close the achievement gap ... and in four decades, it has not narrowed one whit," DeVos said in an interview with The Detroit News on Friday.

The Education Department consumes $70 billion a year in federal tax dollars. DeVos has been working under provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law in 2015 by President Barack Obama, to ship more of that money to the states and local communities in the form of block grants letting those closer to students decide how the resources should be spent.

"Arguably, there should be a whole lot more given back," she says.

Like all of it.

Money that starts at the federal level must filter through the state education bureaucracy, the county bureaucracy and the local district bureaucracy before it reaches classrooms. At each stop, dollars are skimmed off to pay for experts and administrators who never interact face-to-face with a student.

But they do lard on layers of regulations that dictate the relationship between the students and their teachers.

Nearly everything the Education Department does is duplicative of what's going on at the state and local levels.

Defenders of the department's role argue that it is essential to enforce Title IX and other civil rights protections that assure access to equal education. But that responsibility could easily be assumed by the Justice Department.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos with Detroit Edison Public School Academy student Amir Brown during a visit on Friday.

Giving states and local districts — primarily the local districts — more money and fewer regulations from the federal government would create not just better funded schools, but also more nimble ones, freer to innovate and experiment in search of the right teaching models for their students.

Classrooms are crushed by rules handed down by both the federal and state education departments. Slicing off the top level would provide at least some relief. The more bureaucrats who can be removed from the space between teachers and students, the better.

That's DeVos' goal. She came aboard vowing to shrink the Education Department and is not opposed to seeing it eventually go away altogether. In the meantime, her focus is on, "supporting and returning as much power and control to the states as possible.

"I have said often, I would not be unhappy if I worked my way out of a job."

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN