News, Trump Administration

Conservative group urges Betsy DeVos to dismantle federal education department

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

We’re still awaiting details on new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ plans for the nation’s public schools, but a report from The Washington Post this week is sure to fire up public education advocates already anxious about the new secretary.

According to the Post‘s Emma Brown, a conservative policy organization with deep ties to DeVos and President Trump’s administration is pushing the pair for some big changes in how the nation administers public schools.

From the Post:

A policy manifesto from an influential conservative group with ties to the Trump administration, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, urges the dismantling of the Education Department and bringing God into American classrooms.

The five-page document produced by the Council for National Policy calls for a “restoration of education in America” that would minimize the federal role, promote religious schools and home schooling and enshrine “historic Judeo-Christian principles” as a basis for instruction.

For those unfamiliar with the Council for National Policy, it’s a powerful group of conservatives that, since its founding in 1981, has generally sought to advance Christian right principles.

DeVos’ father-in-law, wealthy GOP benefactor Richard DeVos, is a former president of the group and top Trump aides Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway have both been involved with the council, according to the Post. The report adds that DeVos and her husband have also donated to the organization.

Here’s a Policy Watch examination of what DeVos’ confirmation means for North Carolina public schools. 

This week’s Washington Post report notes the group is seeking for DeVos and Trump to mandate a number of controversial, conservative wishlist items.

More from the Post:

A version of the council’s report, created by an 11-member education committee, was posted on the council’s website. The document was no longer available online as of Wednesday afternoon, after The Washington Post reported on it, but it could still be found on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Three committee members confirmed its authenticity.

The document proposes demoting the department to a presidential “Advisory Council on Public Education Reform,” a sub-Cabinet-level agency that would serve as a consultant to states. New employees should subscribe to the educational worldview of the Trump administration, it says, “from assistant secretaries to the mailroom.”

It also says states should encourage K-12 public schools to post the Ten Commandments, teach Bible classes, recognize holidays such as Easter and Christmas. promote instruction “from a Judeo-Christian perspective” and remove “secular-based sex education materials from school facilities.”

It calls for the termination of the Common Core academic standards and an end to the government collection of student data, which has generated concerns among activists on the right and the left.

The goal, it says, is a “gradual, voluntary return at all levels to free-market private schools, church schools and home schools as the normative American practice.”

Think tanks routinely seek to influence new administrations. But the council’s vision would be a dramatic departure for education in America. Nearly 9 in 10 students attend public schools, and the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the First Amendment prohibits public schools from establishing or promoting any particular religion.

The department administers and manages student loans for tens of millions of borrowers, gives K-12 schools billions of dollars a year to bolster education for children who are poor or have disabilities, and enforces civil rights laws in schools and colleges nationwide.

A department spokesman said Wednesday that DeVos had not received the document and therefore had no reaction. DeVos “fully supports the mission of the department and applauds the decision by the president of the United States to continue to keep the Department of Education at Cabinet level,” the spokesman said.

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