The first action U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos should take

Ms. DeVos began her first day on the job yesterday explaining to about 200 education department staffers, according to the Washington Post’s Emma Brown, that her confirmation process “had been  a ‘bit of a bear.'”  In addition to bringing humor to the new position she also had this to say about how she views her organization’s work:

“Let us set aside any preconceived notions and let’s recognize that while we may have disagreements, we can — and must — come together, find common ground and put the needs of our students first.”

So where should she begin?  Since Congress has a unique constitutional role in its oversight of the District the answer is simple.  We need a five year re-authorization of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the plan in the nation’s capital that provides private school tuition for low-income students in elementary and high school.  The Education Department under President Obama, bowing to pressure from teachers’ unions, attempted for eight years to shutter this life preserver for kids living in poverty.  It was protected in each and every budget cycle by past Speaker Boehner.  Now that we have a Republican House of Representatives, Senate, and President it is time to bring stability and growth to the OSP through the SOAR Act.  There are apparently sufficient unspent dollars to go from helping 1,200 scholars a year to an estimated 5,000.  We are extremely fortunate in that we have a new administrative body in Serving Our Children, a group that is more than capable to take up this task.  February 24th would have been Joseph E. Robert, Jr.’s sixty-fifth birthday if a brain tumor had not  tragically taken his life at the end of 2011, and I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to this local hero than the explosive expansion of his Three-Sector Approach that provides federal money to both traditional and charter schools and funds the private school vouchers.

After this is accomplished, it it time to fix a couple of seemingly intractable problems when it comes to our local charters that now educate almost 42,000 children or 47 percent of all of those who attend public school.  Congress has been absent from this movement since passing the School Reform Act over 20 years ago that first created charters here, and due to inaction from the D.C. Council it should get involved once more.  First, a permanent facility needs to be provided to any charter school that needs one.  I’m not partial to how this is accomplished.  Either the city can compelled to provide the buildings or the per pupil facility fund must be increased from $3,193 a student that Mayor Bowser recently proposed to $3,500, the approximate number it would be if the allotment had been tied to inflation.  Next, although the SRA stated that all public school funding needs to go through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, this has proved insufficient to stop the Council over the years from augmenting revenue to DCPS to which charters do not have access. Therefore, legislation needs to be approved that prevents the traditional schools from taking advantage of cash and services unless the other sector is provided the identical offerings.

This is a truly unique period in public policy when it comes to the public education of our children.  Please, let’s not let it go to waste.

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