President Donald Trump nominee for secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is a billionaire who has never set foot in a public school. She's made a name for herself by pushing for voucher programs and charter schools (often with disastrous results), but doesn't talk much about special education, leading some to wonder how Betsy DeVos would affect disabled kids' education. Earlier this month, DeVos left Senators stunned when she displayed an utter lack of knowledge on a variety of education topics, special education among them.
Kids with special needs are protected thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally conceived in 1975. The act guarantees kids a right to a "free, appropriate public education" and a customized Individual Education Plan (IEP) that details the accommodations and services schools must provide. According to The Atlantic, 6.5 million students received an IEP during the 2013-14 school year. Some feel that the bar is still too low, however, because "appropriate" isn't well-defined. While schools in one state may provide an autistic student with a dedicated aide and an an educator trained in ABA therapy, for example, schools in the state next door might be content to stick the child in the back of the room and ignore him while the rest of the class learns.
Thus, the Supreme Court (yes, the one that's about to get a scary new member) is currently tasked with deciding just how good of an education schools must provide.
Since DeVos is so keen on using public funds to pay for private schools, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine asked her during her hearing if she if she believed that all schools that receive federal funding should be subject to IDEA. She seemed wholly unfamiliar with IDEA itself, and repeatedly said that the matter was "best left to the states," some of which are already failing special needs students, even with the federal law in place. She then changed the subject to vouchers for special needs students, which amounts to little more than bribing a child to go away. Voucher programs also require that students waive their IDEA rights.
New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan later redirected the line of questioning, explicitly telling DeVos that IDEA is "a federal civil rights law," and asking her if she stood by her assertion "that it should be up to the states whether to follow it." DeVos replied that "Federal law must be followed," and Hassan asked her if she'd been unaware that IDEA was a federal law. DeVos then said, "I may have confused it." It's alarming if a woman who intends to lead the Department of Education is unfamiliar with one of the most important laws related to education. The Department of Education shouldn't be run by a person who prioritizes states' rights over children's rights.