The controversial Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is back in the spotlight — this time for her first TV interview since being appointed to the role. During a segment of last night's Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, DeVos discussed her stance on charter schools.
DeVos, a school choice activist and wealthy Republican donor, was confirmed by the Senate in early February. (Vice President Mike Pence had to break a 50-50 tie, the first time in history a veep has done so for a Cabinet nomination.) Her appointment was contentious, especially after her performance at her confirmation hearing, where she seemed to have no knowledge of certain federal education laws. And it hasn't gotten better since she took the reins of the Education Department; DeVos is still as controversial as ever.
For example, she wrote that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were the "pioneers" of school choice. (They weren't; HBCUs were founded because of segregation in the South.) She also declined to say whether she would withhold funds from schools that discriminate against students when asked about an Indiana school that refuses admission to LGBTQ students. And, she rolled back two Obama-era regulations protecting students from predatory practices at for-profit schools. (Washington, D.C. and 18 states are suing her for this.)
But DeVos, like others in the Trump administration, has weathered the storms by being inaccessible to the media.
According to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a non-profit school for journalism, it took DeVos about three months to hire a spokesman to field interview and other press requests. And after five months on the job, DeVos has yet to sit down with reporters covering the Department of Education or take their questions at her speaking engagements.
This walled-off behavior changed only slightly when she gave her first network news interview to Megyn Kelly Sunday night. The segment about charter schools showed DeVos very briefly. While the other six interviewees in the segment developed their arguments for or against charter schools, DeVos mainly stuck to her talking points.
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It's a problem that DeVos has been so guarded when it comes to media access. As she keeps developing policies that some education advocates, parents, and students take issue with, she should be speaking with reporters and outlining her agenda. She's a public servant, after all. Doesn't the public have the right to know the reasoning behind the decisions she makes?
The impression left by her Senate confirmation hearing, one of the few times she's been in the public spotlight, was that she's unqualified for the position. (She did cite grizzly bear attacks as a reason to let states decide whether to allow guns in schools.)
If DeVos wants to dispel these notions, and provide Americans the information they need about policies that impact their families, she should start doing outreach and connect with the people she serves. And that means, among other things, becoming more accessible to the media and giving longer interviews to journalists.
So, here are seven questions I would ask the secretary of education if she ever agreed to speak with me.
1. What are the top five goals you want to achieve while the education secretary?
2. Why do you consider President Trump's federal budget "an historic investment in America’s students" if it would cut 13.5% of the Education Department's budget, including a $2 million cut on the Office for Civil Rights, and make deep cuts to the student loan program?
3. The Department of Education called the lawsuit brought by D.C. and 18 other states "ideologically driven" and argued the borrower defense regulations enacted by the Obama administration were flawed and needed to be rewritten. How do you plan to rewrite them?
5. Why did you instruct your department to scale back investigations into civil rights violations in colleges and public schools, which include the inquiries into the mishandling of sexual assault cases?
6. Do you still stand by not committing to withhold federal funds from private schools that discriminate against students, particularly those who belong to the LGBTQ community?
7. Will you ever consider holding a press conference?