Credit: Courtesy of
New U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is expected to hold a confirmation hearing on the nomination of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. A lot has been written about her position on vouchers and school choice. But DeVos has not granted any public or press interviews since President-elect Donald Trump announced her nomination.

EdSource asked a cross-section of education experts, teachers, students and administrators what three questions they would ask DeVos, given the focus of their work and policy interests, if they had the opportunity – and why it’s important that the public hear those answers.  The questions they submitted were thoughtful – and thought-provoking – and covered a range of  important issues. They include whether DeVos is committed to Title I funding for low-income children, how she would respond to the fears of gay and immigrant students under a Trump presidency, how she would improve the academic achievement of minority children who are struggling and how she would carry out her goal of expanding vouchers and charter schools. Among other questions, they want her to explain how she would act on her opposition to the Common Core standards, to explain her approach to addressing college students’ debts and whether she would press for more federal funding for early childhood education.

We welcome your questions and comments as well.

Marciano Gutierrez

Economics and history teacher, Mountain View, Calif.

1. Out-of-school factors, such as poverty, violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues, have a substantial impact on the learning and academic success of students. What is the role and responsibility of the federal government and the Department of Education in helping students overcome these obstacles so that they are successful in and out of the classroom?

2. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has dropped significantly since the Great Recession, all while a generation of teachers are set to retire in the next few years. States are finding it difficult to staff teaching positions, leading some to increase classroom size, eliminate course offerings or hire substitutes to serve as full-time teachers. What can the federal government do to address the impending teacher shortage and attract and retain high quality teachers?

3. Previous education initiatives, including No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, had substantial repercussions on the work of teachers, though teachers had limited involvement in the development and implementation of these initiatives. As secretary of education, how will you authentically and substantially involve teachers in the development and implementation of federal education policy to ensure that it is responsive to the realities of the classroom and supports student success?

Marciano Gutierrez, who teaches at Alta Vista High School in Mountain View, was a U.S. Department of Education White House Teaching Ambassador Fellow in 2012.

Morgan Polikoff

Associate professor at the USC Rossier School of Education

1. You now oppose Common Core after previously supporting the standards. What, specifically, about the standards do you oppose? It is not clear that the Department of Education could “ban” or “punish” states using Common Core. Would your Department of Education take any steps to encourage states not to use Common Core or other standards that are shared or similar across states?

2. A number of scholars have expressed concern about unregulated schools of choice in Michigan and their impacts on student learning. Do you believe charter schools should be held to the same standards as district-run schools? What about private schools participating in voucher programs? What specific measures do you support to increase accountability and ensure students are learning at schools of choice?

3. LGBT kids are some of the most vulnerable children in our schools. Your family has donated extensively to groups who oppose gay rights, including advocating for so-called “conversion therapy” for gay people, despite that practice having been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades. Given these donations and your personal views on homosexuality, do you believe LGBT students have the right to not be discriminated against in how they are treated at schools receiving taxpayer funding?

Morgan Polikoff’s areas of expertise include K-12 education policy, the Common Core standards and assessment policy.

Eric Premack

Executive director, Charter Schools Development Center

1. During the campaign, President-elect Trump, if I understand him correctly, advocated for creating a new, $20 billion federal funding program to expand parental choice – noting also that the $20 billion, which is larger than the entire current Title I program, would come from existing funding sources. As education secretary, would you support the creation of such a program? If “yes,” how would you advocate such a program be structured and toward what ends? Which existing funding programs would you cut to fund this new program?

2. Your record would indicate that you are a strong supporter of charter schools. Charter schools, however, represent a huge range of instructional, management and governance approaches. Instructionally, the range from conventional, to online/virtual, to a broad range of other designs. Some are for-profit while others are nonprofit. Some are subject to extensive operational restrictions and “transparency” requirements while others are not. What particular forms of charter schools do you support in terms of their instructional approaches, management, and governance practices – and why?

3. The federal government and law play a heavy and highly regulatory role in ensuring that students with exceptional needs have full access to a free and appropriate education. Some would say the federal hand is excessively heavy, while others the opposite. What specific changes, if any, would you recommend with respect to federal policy as it relates to special education?

Eric Premack founded the Charter Schools Development Center, a leading charter school support and advocacy organization based in Sacramento, in 1993.

Lillian Maldonado French

Superintendent, Mountain View School District

These questions are based on the concerns I have heard throughout our community:

1. The President-elect has promised to deport millions of immigrants, and many in our community are concerned that student data may be used for this purpose. What is your position on this use of student data and specifically, would you allow the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) access to the Migrant Student Information Exchange, a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Education?

2. The Mountain View School District is located in Los Angeles County, and 92 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch. As such, Title I funds are an important funding source. How will you ensure that federal funds continue to support the public schools who need it most?

3. The majority of our students are English Learners and we are making good gains on their academic progress while they acquire proficiency in English. How will you ensure that research-based strategies to support English Learners will continue to be the focus of the Department of Education?

The Mountain View School District is in El Monte, Calif.

Deborah Kong

President, Early Edge California

1. The benefits of high-quality preschool are clear, yet less than half of eligible children are enrolled in a preschool, and the programs vary in quality. What role, if any, do you think the federal government should play in ensuring access to and the quality of early childhood education programs?

2. Recent changes to the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) call for states to improve quality in federally subsidized child care over the next few years. Do you support these changes? If so, should the federal government pay the cost of those improvements?

3. The Every Student Succeeds Act includes historic provisions to expand access to early learning, encourage alignment with early elementary grades, improve instruction for English learners, and build capacity and quality among early childhood teachers and caregivers. Will the Department of Education incentivize and support states, districts, and communities to expand and improve quality early learning under ESSA?

Early Edge California is a statewide nonprofit organization working to ensure all children have the early experiences necessary to be successful learners, setting them on a path to college and career readiness.

Eloy Ortiz Oakley

Chancellor, California Community Colleges

1. During the presidential election, large numbers of voters made it known that they were not connected to the economy and feel they are losing ground in the era of globalization. How can this administration and your department empower community colleges to do even more to prepare students for the jobs of today and tomorrow?

2. The California community colleges comprise the largest system of higher education in the country, and tens of thousands of our 2.1 million students participate in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. What will you and the Department of Education do to ensure that these students, some of which have served our nation in the Armed Forces, will continue to pursue their educational goals and contribute to the communities in which they were raised?

3. President-elect Trump has made clear that he wants America to embark on projects that modernize our aging infrastructure, which will create job opportunities for a broad spectrum of skilled workers. The success of such a large-scale public infrastructure program will depend, in large part, on the ability of employers and colleges to achieve labor supply and demand equilibrium. How will your department work with America’s community colleges to invest in the types of career technical education programs that will align with the administration’s infrastructure plans?

Eloy Ortiz Oakley was named chancellor of the California Community Colleges system in December 2016.

Ryan Smith

Executive director, The Education Trust-West

1. The Department of Education’s mission includes a commitment to ensuring equal access to education for all students. Over the past few decades, administrations have worked to promote student achievement and close achievement gaps. What is the federal government’s role in ensuring resource equity, and what does an equitable school system look like? What will it take to close opportunity and achievement gaps for this generation of students?

2. The Every Student Succeeds Act was passed with bipartisan support and educators, advocacy groups, and parents supported many of the provisions addressing equity. Regarding ESSA’s protections for vulnerable students, what is the federal government’s role in ensuring accountability and disaggregation of data for students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners?

3. The Office of Civil Rights plays a crucial role in providing data on demographics, course access, and college and career readiness. During the Obama administration, the office vigilantly protected the rights of students and collected data for the first time on chronic absenteeism and access to credit recovery and dual enrollment programs. How will you ensure that the Office of Civil Rights continues to protect student civil rights?

Education Trust-West is the California branch of the education nonprofit that works to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement for all students.

Susan Henry

President, California School Boards Association

1. As education secretary, would you help schools meet their obligations under the nation’s civil rights laws to serve undocumented students, and if so, what steps would you take to help them succeed?

2. Roughly 90 percent of U.S. students attend public schools and about 95 percent of students attend traditional (non-charter) public schools – yet much of the attention around your nomination has focused on the schools that educate a very small percentage of American students. How do you propose to strengthen the public schools that educate the vast majority of our nation’s children?

3. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which governs special education services nationwide, is in need of reauthorization. The funding promise from Congress since the beginning of the program has been 40 percent yet the current funding level is hovering around 10 percent. What will you do to help ensure that Congress moves federal IDEA funding up to the 40 percent level?

Susan Henry is a member of the Huntington Beach Union High School District Board of Trustees.

Rick Miller

Executive director, CORE districts

1. What is your general belief on the waiver authority of the secretary and when it should be used? Within that authority, the Every Student Succeeds Act calls for state and local innovation for assessment. Do you believe ESSA does, or should, allow similar innovation around accountability?

2. You have said with regards to the Common Core: “I am not a supporter – period.” Do you believe, however, that states should be allowed to choose their own standards and would you support and defend California or any other state’s right to use the Common Core standards? Would you support using federal dollars or other levers as incentive to try and encourage states to not use the Common Core?

3. Do you support or will you seek to repeal the current ESSA regulations promulgated by Secretary John King’s office? Specifically, do you support equal funding for Title I schools under the law’s “supplement not supplant” provision, which ensures states must use all their Title I dollars to increase funding for low-income students as opposed to using these federal dollars to justify cutting their current state funding?

CORE is a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve student achievement by fostering collaboration and learning among its members, which include some of California’s largest districts.

Nailah Williams

High school senior, Oakland

1. Many students have concerns and fears under the new presidency. There are so many possible policies that can impact our selves and families. As an LGBTIQ student myself, I am concerned about the increase in bullying and harassment at school and in my community. What will you do to make sure all student feel safe and welcome in their schools? Especially LGBTIQ, Muslim, and immigrant students?

2. There’s a lot of talk that you are really into school choice and want to give parents access to private and charter schools. It’s important to know that schools will be adequately funded for low-income and immigrant students. How will you ensure that public schools are adequately funded?

3. I’m a struggling student, and programs like Gateway to College at Laney College get public funds for me to make up my high school credits. How will you build important relationships with teachers and school leaders across the country to make sure that all students despite where they live and what they look like get a quality education?

Nailah Williams attends the Gateway to College program at Laney College in Oakland, which provides students behind in credits an opportunity to attain a high school diploma and transition to college. Hector Castaneda, a senior at Downtown College Prep in San Jose, also contributed his thoughts to these questions. Both students are leaders in Californians for Justice, a student-led grassroots organization that works to advance educational justice and improve social, economic, and political conditions.

Caprice Young

CEO, Magnolia Public Schools

1. There are a significant number of educators who support education reform efforts like charter schools, but who felt that a Trump presidency would be potentially harmful to many of the students and families that they were serving. Exactly how would you alleviate these concerns?

2. Your experience in Michigan must have taught you a great deal about what works and what doesn’t with regard to education reform. Based on what you learned in Michigan and some of the questions that have been raised, how do you see the principles of choice, quality and accountability intersecting?

3. What are the lessons learned in giving parents more access to choice with ensuring that those choices are quality?

Magnolia Public Schools is a network of 10 STEAM-focused charter schools in Southern California.

Joshua Pechthalt

President, California Federation of Teachers

1. The Supreme Court held in Plyer v. Doe (1982) that no public school district has a basis to deny children access to education based on their immigration status. In addition, under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools receiving federal money may not discriminate based on a student’s sex, including a student’s transgender status. As secretary, how would you protect the rights of all students including those just mentioned to equal access to a public education, whether it be a classroom or, in the case of transgender students, the use of a restroom?

2. You have been a proponent of vouchers and for-profit charter schools, including schools that have boards that, unlike public schools, are not answerable to the public through elected officials. Can you tell us what you would do as education secretary to represent all 25 million students in pre-K through 12th grade to make sure that all students are prepared to be prepared for school and beyond.

3. Student debt is at an all-time high. Some for-profit colleges have been fraudulent, gouged students through tuition and fees without true career preparation. How would you, as secretary, help public colleges and universities provide a more affordable education to our higher education students while also making sure that predatory colleges are reined in?

The California Federation of Teachers is the state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

Kristen Soares

President, Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities

1. As California grapples with a teacher shortage, improving college affordability and attainment for our wonderfully diverse student population, I would ask:

2. How will your administration assure college remains affordable for all?

3. What support will your administration offer to assure our diverse student population receives equal access to a college education, including our undocumented or DACA students?

3. How will your administration ensure the preparation of teachers is of high quality, while allowing for flexibility and creativity among programs?

The Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities represents the chief executives of California’s 70-plus private nonprofit colleges and universities on issues of public policy.

Ralph Washington, Jr.

President of the University of California Student Association

1. Cost remains a persistent barrier in access to higher education. The federal Pell Grant program is one of the most important mechanisms to increase access to higher education for low-income students. In your role as secretary of the Department of Education, how would you ensure that the program continues to improve equity in higher education?

2. The most effective policies are those informed by robust research. Some of the most important research on educational policy occurs in public research universities. How do you intend to make certain that policies that affect institutions of higher learning are informed by research from those same institutions?

3. Education can have a dramatic effect not only because it can increase students’ knowledge and skills, but also because it can expand people’s understanding of and empathy for others. How can the Department of Education do more to assist universities in cultivating an environment that allows people to grow into stewards of a just and inclusive society?

The University of California Student Association is a coalition of UC students and student governments aimed at increasing the accessibility, affordability and quality of the UC system through advocacy and direct action organizing. Washington is a doctoral student in entomology at UC Davis.

Debra Watkins

Executive director, California Alliance of African American Educators

1. Research shows that there is a huge return on investment when children receive high quality early learning opportunities. What will your administration do to invest in high quality educational opportunities for Black and Brown children ages zero to 5?

2. What can the administration do to recruit and retain Black and Latino teachers to serve minority students who too often are being taught by young, inexperienced teachers from programs like Teach for America?

3. The research of many scholars of color about what works for students of color has not received the attention it merits. How will your administration consider and use the research findings of scholars of color and others who have a commitment to maintaining public schools?

The California Alliance of African American Educators, which Watkins founded in 2001, provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and strategies to improve the educational opportunities and achievement for African-American students.

To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.

Share Article

Comments (2)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. Carol Foster 6 years ago6 years ago

    What are her plans to assist teachers from having to purchase school supplies out of their own pockets?

  2. Karen Duncan 6 years ago6 years ago

    I would like to ask if Ms. DeVos would come sub in my classroom for a week since she has no experience with public education.