Iowans speak out over state of education

Chris Anderson

Betsy DeVos, who was confirmed as education secretary Feb. 7, has been criticized by many for her lack of experience and was at the center of perhaps the most contested nomination battles for the incoming Trump administration.

Many from across Iowa and Iowa State University are concerned about the changes that could be seen in the field of education now that DeVos leads the Department of Education.

Cody Woodruff, sophomore in political science and Student Government senator, voiced his concerns about the confirmation.

Woodruff’s primary concern was DeVos’ lack of experience in the public sector of education.

“She’s had no experience in public schools,” Woodruff said. “Because of that lack of experience, I think there’s a lack of understanding with schools in general.”

As a student, Woodruff sees the real ways DeVos’ lack of experience could hurt those relying on forms of financial aid such as Pell grants and federal student loans.

“I think she wasn’t quite sure how critical that [financial aid] was to students and how it allows students across the United States and Iowa to go to college,” Woodruff said.

Another point Woodruff brought up, which has been worrying many across the country, is the state of education in Michigan. DeVos’ home state has been a champion of lobbying for school choice and charter schools in the state.

In an article from the Detroit Free Press, Stephen Henderson wrote about the effect DeVos’ policies that she championed had in the state. Many communities are left with only one choice of schooling, which in some cases means a charter school with very low test scores due to a lack of accountability.

Woodruff also voiced his concern for the lack of attention higher education was given in DeVos’ hearings. He said the questions that were brought up about Obama-era efforts to protect those affected by sexual assault were mostly brushed off by DeVos.

“She dodged those questions, she wasn’t able to address them,” Woodruff said. “Those are very important issues.”

Another worry Woodruff shares with many other students at Iowa State is the rising cost of tuition under the Board of Regents and the lack of a conversation about providing federal aid to help struggling students.

“If we start taking away some of the federal aid under Sec. DeVos, that could hurt students and really drag down university enrollment,” Woodruff said.

Mack Shelley, professor of political science at Iowa State, helped outline some of the things he feels should be points of worry with the radical changes being seen in education.

Shelley helped shed some light on why President Donald Trump chose somebody with such little experience to head the Department of Education. 

In his opinion, the game plan of the Trump administration is to put people in positions of power who will effectively inhibit the core missions of the agencies they are appointed to — agencies the administration opposes a government role in.

Another example of this strategy is former Texas Gov. Rick Perry being nominated as the energy secretary. Perry previously said he wanted to abolish the Department of Energy, the agency he is expected to lead for at least the next four years.

Shelley said DeVos would siphon funding away from public schools and move it into a voucher program. 

A voucher program would use government-issued vouchers to give parents the choice of which school to send their kids to.

“In reality, all [the voucher program] does is provide an excuse to bring money away from public schools,” Shelley said.

Shelley also expressed concerns with charter and private schools, which could increase in numbers under DeVos.

“Most of the research I’ve done has shown charter schools bring little benefit to students and instead work for the interests of those running it,” Shelley said.

Shelley added that nearly 85 percent of private schools have some sort of religious affiliation.

Shelley worries that these types of private schools are looking to “indoctrinate” kids with their own religious values.

Lisa Schaa, public school teacher and president of the Stratford Education Association in Stratford, Iowa, also worries about the potential danger to the education system. 

Schaa believes DeVos was put in charge of the Department of Education with the intention of dismantling it.

Schaa is also worried about what will happen at the state level.

“You can see what Iowa is doing right here,” Schaa said. “Their goal is to break the unions and privatize education.”

With a Republican majority in the state legislature, bills have been proposed to significantly curtail the collective bargaining powers of public employees.

The legislation, as it stands, would prohibit bargaining over additional pay, seniority, grievances, benefits, insurance, layoff procedures and other topics important to the constituents. 

“I think a lot of people’s rights are gonna be pulled away and it’s gonna pull us back in time,” Schaa said. “If they want to make you work from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., they can because you have no rights.”

Schaa believes this could drive a lot of people out of education or out of the state as teaching becomes a less attractive career choice.

“We will be forcing good teachers to leave the state of Iowa,” Schaa said.

Politics aside, Schaa feels this is not a partisan issue but rather one everyone should be worried about.

“I have a lot of Republican friends, and they’re thinking, ‘This is great! We won!’ But this is going to affect them,” Schaa said. “They have kids in education. Everybody is going to be affected by this.”