Board concerned education secretary gunning for public schools

After a tough first week as U.S. secretary of education that included stating she’d be happy if her own department didn’t exist at all, St. Charles Parish School Board members added they don’t believe Betsy DeVos wants public education to exist either.

“I think she is looking to privatize our school system,”  said School Board President Melinda Bernard, who called DeVos “a privileged individual who doesn’t understand the needs of our students.”

DeVos was appointed as U.S. secretary of eduction on Feb. 7.

Bernard, who said she’s disappointed in President Trump’s nomination, is not alone and particularly based on DeVos’ recent comments where she openly stated she will pursue more public charter schools, private schools and virtual schools.

She also stated her intention to roll out President Barack Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act while also pushing for school choice policies like voucher programs.

Bernard, as did fellow board members, expressed concern about DeVos’ lack of education experience and that education funding could significantly shift from public to private education.

The School Board is staying in communication with state legislators to stay watchful for proposed measures aimed at this effort on the state level, she said.

“We will be watching Ms. DeVos very carefully,” Bernard said. “She can’t make law, but she certainly can make policy and procedures that could affect our public schools across the nation. We will let parents know how this could affect public education.”

Of the area’s Congressional delegation, she added, “We elect you and will be watching how you vote.”

DeVos, as did former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindall, recently criticized teachers, she said. This is particularly concerning when it comes at a more difficult time to find teachers.

While concerned about DeVos’ leanings, Board Member Alex Suffrin said they will stay focused on the School District’s long-range plan.

“The things she will push for are things that we have been seeing for the last several years,” Suffrin said. “We certainly have our challenges in terms of funding. It is being attacked.”

Gov. Edwards, however, is more supportive, but he’s also dealing with a government deficit.

“We hope it doesn’t come too much from our education funds,” he said. “It’s a constant fight, and we’re watching our funding, and we’re tightening our belt – working everything from a cost-benefit standpoint.”

Calling it an uneven playing field, School Board member Dennis Naquin said he expects a battle because he expects Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White, a Jindall appointee, to align with DeVos.

“We’re battling a pretty tough battle and it will all come down to funding,” Naquin said.

The School Board has already named a budget review committee to identify potential ways to tighten system spending in its $119 million budget.

“We’re not doing anything now, but we want to be proactive,” Naquin said.

School Board member Sonny Savoie said charter schools and vouchers are for some kids, which he will not support.

“I’m not really in favor of her policies on charters [schools],” Savoie said of DeVos. “I don’t think she’s a good fit.”

Board member John Smith also questioned the lack of accountability with charter schools, focusing on land, labor and capital.

“The government is giving all three of these things to charter operators,” Smith said. “That biggest problem that I have with that is in order to give them those things they’re taking it away from the existing public schools. You’re creating another system of education, and it appears the intent is to replace public schools.”

According to Bernard, the parish’s school system is dedicated to educating every child that comes into public schools.

“It’s our desire in public education to do that,” she said. “That is why we became educators. This is the right of our citizens  – to be an educated citizenry.”

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