No IDEA What She’s Talking About…

I don’t get into sharing political views very often.  It’s somewhat private to me – and part of that is my own understanding of how each of has our own reality.  Whatever that reality is, is correct and right to us.  That reality helps us to decide what issues are most important and how we approach learning about and advocating for those issues.

First…let me say that Tucker is a Freshman in High School and is on a 504 Plan.  His Special Education resources are minimal.  However, in his younger years – we were fully ‘on.’  Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech/Language Therapy, Special Education Teachers, School Psychologists – the whole nine yards…some days, it felt like ten.

So – my reality is this.  I am an advocate for Special Education.  My son no longer needs the services, because he had the services.  However, a day doesn’t go by when I don’t think about where we would be if not for these services (and people)?  I do not want to think about it.

I have great concern today.  Someone sent me a link to read about Ms. DeVos’ hearing (our Secretary of Education nominee).  I chose to not read a reporter’s words.  As I often do, I chose to find the transcript and read it for myself.   What you’ll find below is that transcript and my commentary (in bold).  If you choose to follow the link this conversation begins around 2:34.

Sen. Collins:  Thank you, Mr Chairman.  I cannot help but think it gives my friends on the other side of the aisle Good job being non-partisan in an education hearing that is about KIDS.  Can we get along for kids, at least?  have used their time to ask questions rather than complaining about the lack of a second round, they each would have been able to get in a second question.  I used 15 second of my time to make that point.  Commitment to education, any suggestion such as Wes made earlier that your nomination is linked to your political contribution is really unfair and unwarranted.  Bla bla bla…okay…can we stop with this and just get to the questions that people really want to hear? And I just want to say that for the record.  Good for you – seriously, it’s like arguing with a three-year old.  Seriously…because who is going to read the record?  People like me, yes.  People who think this behavior is ridiculous on BOTH sides of the aisle.    I now would like to move on to some questions about how you view the Federal role in education versus the State and Local role. Finally. I want to put aside the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program because Congress’ relationship to the District of Columbia is unique.  And I want to ask you, at what level of government do you believe that decisions about charter school and vouchers should be made?  Is that the Federal Role, or is that a state role?

Ms. DeVos:  Thank you for that question.  I really enjoyed the conversation we had in your office. I wonder if there were snacks. Let me respond to your question about Federal versus State and Local rule by saying, I absolutely support the fact it is a State rule and State decision what kind of offering there might be with regards to choices and education.  As we discussed in our office, Maine has a unique situation with students attending school on island and in rural areas. Huh…I’m in Iowa – never thought about that.  It makes sense – our country is massive and different people have different experiences.  Our bus picks up our children and takes them to a school 10 miles away.  I wonder how kids in rural Montana get to school.  Not many people there…probably takes forever, plus the winter weather. Yuck.  I’m going to do some research on that.  The next time my kids complain about the bus ride…I’ll show them what children in Montana go through!  It suggest that the right answer for Maine is not the right answer for Indiana or any State.  I would not support a Federal mandate or Federal role in dictating those. 

Sen. Collins:  I am glad to hear that.  I have heard repeatedly from school officials, whether teacherrs or superintendents, that the same action the Federal Government could take would be to fulfill the promise of the 1975 Individuals with Disability to Education  Act Hey – that’s the IDEA act…that’s super important to me…to fund 40% of the additional cost of education a special needs child.  It has been many years since that law was passed.  We have never come close to the 40%.  Would you commit to taking a look at the funding of the department to see if we could do a better job of moving toward fulfillment of that promise?  That is an action that would help every single school district in this country.

Ms. DeVos:  Senator, absolutely I would commit to that if confirmed. No kidding.  Good for you.  I like you ( in this moment).  I actually think this is an area that could be considered for an approach that would be somewhat different, I like different and innovative – as long as we protect our most vulnerable children and that maybe the money should follow individual students instead of going to the states. That sounds like a cluster**** -I wouldn’t want that job.  Attaching that money to students and having it follow them?  Sounds like more bureaucracy and MORE government instead of less.  Humph.  She did say maybe – so I’m not getting too fired up.  I say some pretty ridiculous stuff when brainstorming as well. I think that is something that we could discuss.  I look forward to talking about that with the members of this with preparing students, informing them before they enter college.  I know the TRIO program helps to mentor and prepare students that might not otherwise have an opportunity.  Better tag Emily in this discussion – she’ll want to know this is mentioned That is a very important and valid one to look at, or perhaps, is there another and more effective way to advance that or replicate that?  Or use that in a new way to help increase the participation of students that may not otherwise pursue higher education and complete it. Education is BOSS, truth.  

Sen. Collins:  Thank you.

Sen. Alexander:  Thank you, Senator Collins.  Senator Hassan.  I wonder where Senator Hassan is from. Thanks, Alexa – she’s from New Hampshire.  Her birthday is Feb. 27 – cool, mine is Feb. 25th.  Her name is Maggie – I dig that.  All Maggies I know are fun people.

Sen. Hassan: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Murray.  I look forward to working on this committee and appreciate the opportunity to participate.  Mrs. DeVos, it is nice to see you again.  Thank you for being here today, your family as well. That was nice to recognize her family is there with her.  And I think all of us here share a commitment to public education and making sure the standards to democracy.  I would echo my colleagues’ call for another round of questions, because I think our job here is not to talk about ideas  but actually to drill down how this actually works in practice. Right on, lady!  A little less talk and a lot more action – let’s get some sh*t done!!! And so, I want to talk about one of those situation you begin to touch on in my office when we met.  It has a little bit of what Senator Collins was talking about in terms of full commitment to students with disabilities and what Senator was talking about with qualification for children with dyslexia.  My son, Ben, experiences Cerebral Palsy.  Oh man…this isn’t just an issue to her.  It’s HER issue.  She has skin in the game.  She’s a pig not a chicken (in reference to breakfast – bacon or eggs.  Big difference here).  I’ve always wondered if I’m pronouncing that right.  Is it cerebral ….like that rhymes with terrible – or cerebral kind of like cereal bowl…is it one of those words that can be said both ways?  I hate that.  He cannot speak or use his fingers, but is smart and the best kid on Earth, if I do say so myself.  OF COURSE HE IS…good mama, right there. 

He got a quality public education at our local school.  Awesome.  Not all schools do a great job – we know this. He is a graduate of Exeter Academy High School in Exeter, New Hampshire.  Upon further research, her husband is the Principal that was handy… He worked so hard to make sure he had the right to that education.  Warrior mom. I am concerned that with students who experience disabilities receive a publicly funded voucher to attend a private school, they often don’t receive adequate resources and in some case have to fight over their legal right over the IDEA.  Huh.  Interesting.  So — if you receive a voucher to a Public School you don’t always get the SpEd services?  Interesting…thinking..Do you think families should have a recourse in the courts in their child’s education does not adequately meet his or her needs, whether they get a voucher or more public and traditional? Yes.  Is this a question?  Of course…all children deserve a quality education – SpEd or not. Not a hard question.  All children are worthy.

Ms. DeVos:  Thank you for the question.  I appreciate our meeting earlier last week.  Let me begin by saying I appreciate and dancing I think that is a C-Span typo, unless they were dancing in her office.  If so, I wonder what to?  Abba?  Maggie was born in 1958 – which means when she was 20. “Aint No Mountain High Enough” was a big hit.  Everyone dances to Diana Ross.  It’s part of being an American. Wish I would have been invited to the dance party.  I could talk some education stuff too… had the opportunity with your son Ben, to find the right opportunity for him Let’s be honest – it helps if you have $ – REGARDLESS of which side of the aisle you are on…and Maggie went to Brown, was a healthcare executive in Boston…but whatever.  I would advocate for all parents to be able to have that opportunity to choose the right school. Here, here!

Sen.  Hassan:  I had the opportunity to send him to the same public school that my daughter went to because law required that that school provide him resources that were never invited before that law was passed because it was hard.  Rolling eyes.  Not at Hassan or DeVos but at the ‘it’s so difficult’ argument.  Really?  It’s difficult to PROVIDE the services.  Try needing the services….FOR A LIFETIME.  So the question is, will you enforce the law with regard to kids with disabilities if the voucher program did allow them to go someplace else?  And the school said, no, it is too expensive we don’t want to do it. So…she’s asking – if a family wants to send their child somewhere else, with a voucher – should the school have to ‘honor’ their special needs and serve them.  

Ms. DeVos:  There are great program already in place like in Ohio.  I wonder if other people still shout O-HIO from the Drew Carey show like I do every time I read the word. Sam and his mom are here today, beneficiary of the John Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program.  Ummm…you didn’t answer the question.

Sen. Hassan:  I understand that.  But excuse me for interrupting.  What I am asking you is, there is at least one voucher program which makes students sign away their right before they can get that voucher.  Trigger words.  “Signing away rights” ALWAYS makes me cringe.  Now I’m really listening.   I think that is fundamentally wrong, and I think it will mean that students with disabilities cannot use the voucher system that the Department under your leadership might start.  So I want to know whether you will enforce and whether you will make sure that children with disabilities do not have to sign away their legal rights in order to get a voucher should the voucher program be developed.  Not a hard question here.  If you want to do a voucher program and if a student wants to take their voucher and go somewhere else to school – will that school be required to provide special education services (if needed)?  Please say yes…I don’t want to get fired up today.  

Ms. DeVos:  I talk about this program were 31,000 are taking advantage, and 93% of the parents utilizing the voucher are please with it as opposed to 30%.  Ummm…you still didn’t answer the question, like not even close.

Sen. Hassan:  That is not the question I asked.  For right now, I will move on to one final question I really do with we had a second round.  There is a lot here that is critical to our students with disabilities.  With all due respect, Mrs. Voss, has not answered my question, but because we have not a second round, I am trying to follow up on a question you asked….NOOOOO…MAKE HER ANSWER THE QUESTION

Then I calmed down – it is JUST a hearing anyway.  How much can you REALLY learn about a person while being grilled by a committee of folks who are inherently ‘for’ or ‘against’ you just because of what side of the aisle you sit on…dumb, dumb, dumb.

But then…about an hour later (3:23)

Sen. Hassan:  I want to go back to the Individual with Disabilities in Education Act.  That is a Federal Law. Oh yes, let’s do that!

Ms. DeVos:  Federal law must be followed where Federal dollars are in play. Sensical, enough.

Sen.  Hassan:  Were you unaware that it is a Federal Law? Eyebrows furrow.  What a silly question – kind of disrespectful.  If she’s about to be Secretary of Education, certainly she knows about the groundbreaking IDEA.

Ms. DeVos:  I may have confused it. I have no appropriate words.  Yes, no one person can know everything…but IDEA?  Yeah…that’s kind of MAJOR in the world of education.

Sen.  Hassan:  Guarantees to students with disabilities to that they are given a high-quality education with their peers – one reason it is difficult to have this hearing and fully understand your perspective – we do know that children with disabilities have gone with a voucher to their school because of their disabilty, they have to leave the school, the school keep the money, and they go back to public schools, which have less resources for them.  Many of us see this as a potential for turning our public schools into warehouse.  The most challenging kids with disabilities or the kids who parents cannot afford to make up the difference between the voucher and the cost of education.  I would urge you to become familiar with the IDEA act.  I’m concerned that you seem so unfamiliar with it, speechless…and that RARELY happens to me and use them to support voucher schools that have not honored, that have made students find a way to their rights that this law enforces.  That is very troubling to me. Let me break this down.  So…the kiddo wants to go to a different school for whatever reason.  I have friends who homeschool, private school, magnet school, and/or charter school – so I get the ‘public school’ isn’t for everyone. They take the voucher to the school of their choice with them.  But, then that school can’t fulfill the promises in IDEA.  So, if the parents want to get the ‘best’ education and the IDEA promises…they have to go back to a public school.  BUT…the money for that kiddo stays at the first school…so the Public School ends up short on $…which then will have to be made up in raising local taxes (eventually).  

Ms. DeVos:  If confirmed, I will be very sensitive to the special needs students. SENSITIVE.  YOU’LL BE SENSITIVE.  ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME.  SENSITIVE?  I just can’t even…what else are you going to say here?  What a BS answer. ‘If confirmed, I will take away their rights.  If confirmed, I will make sure the $ doesn’t go with them.”  Duh…you aren’t going to say those things because then EVERYONE would get fired up….instead, you’ll be very generic…and sensitive.  

Sen. Hassan:  It is not about sensitivity. Get it, girl. It is ensuring that every child has equal access to a high quality education.  YES.  The reality is that the vouchers you support do not always come out that way.  That is why it is something we need to continue to explore. 

Ms. DeVos:  That is correct.  

That’s all.  I’m leaving it right there for all of you.   I understand it’s only a hearing, I understand ACTUAL policy isn’t made in this moment.  Regardless, this is real life.  Please, can we take the ‘politics’ out of this and think about our children.  This could be the very real future for so many children – children just like Tucker.  It won’t effect Tucker now, but it could have then.

Left out.

Once again.


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