Motivations of Blacks and Jews on Trump team

By Dorothy Inman-Johnson
Special to the Outlook

The U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, came to Tallahassee last week and spent two days speaking with leaders and visiting schools; but did not visit a single school in the Leon County School District or any surrounding traditional school district. So, no one should have been shocked at the protests and comments from some elected and education leaders over the slight to public schools, responsible for educating approximately 90 percent of Florida’s children. Instead, she visited Holy Comforter Episcopal School, a private Christian School; the FSU K-12 (Florida High), public charter “A” rated school; and attended a private roundtable meeting at the Bethel Family Life Center that houses the Bethel Christian Academy, a voucher school.

Though the U.S. Department of Education has adopted the position that the only successful schools are private, religious, charter, voucher, and for-profit schools, if DeVos had bothered to include the Leon County School District on her itinerary, she would have learned that there are many “A” rated traditional public schools here in Tallahassee/ Leon County. The Leon County School District is ranked the 8th best district of the state’s 67 school districts, and manages 61 elementary, middle, and high schools charged with serving all school-aged children without the luxury of selecting their student population. It is, therefore, understandable that Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna was not happy with DeVos coming to the capital of Florida and completely ignoring the public school district. His displeasure was clear in his quote, “It is insulting that she’s going to visit the capital of the state of Florida to visit a charter school, a private school, and a voucher school. It’s obvious that the Secretary and our federal government have very little respect for our traditional public school system”.
Though Hanna was criticized for his comments by the Leon County Republican Party Chairman, many more feel Hanna should be applauded for taking a stand to protect the rights of the 35,815 students served by the Leon County School District for equitable resources, educational opportunities, and fair treatment by the U.S. Department of Education. As would be expected, Hanna turned down the invitation to attend the private roundtable meeting at the Bethel Family Life Center with DeVos. He indicated he preferred not to be part of the backdrop for her usual message of favoritism for school choice and vouchers.

However, even though the meeting was closed and by invitation only, Rev. Holmes invited the right mix of educators, K through post-secondary, to help Secretary DeVos become more informed on the value and successes of all of our schools. The title of the meeting was “Building Positive Dialogue for the future”. Several public school superintendents, public school advocates, and university officials made brief presentations on inequitable treatment of public schools by the U.S. Department of Education, and the need to understand the past and current importance of contributions by Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). In attendance were U.S. Representative (D) Al Lawson and Florida Senator Bill Montford, President of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. Bay County School Superintendent Husfelt, serving 20,000 students with only 15 percent in non-profit charters, asked the Secretary to address the issue of equity and fairness between charter and public schools that do not have the luxury of picking their students. He noted that his district included 14 Title I schools, while Bay County charters only served three (3). DeVos never directly addressed his concerns. Though her responses were woefully inadequate, Rev. Holmes provided the venue to allow her to hear the community’s concerns from a diverse group of leaders inside the meeting, in addition to the protests outside.

The public schools, by the sheer fact that they educate most of our children in many more school facilities catering to the diverse needs of children from many backgrounds, cannot continue to be ignored by the Trump administration and his Education Secretary. Their current elitist attitudes toward education must be replaced with a common sense approach to ensuring that all of America’s children have the same opportunity to receive a quality education regardless of the school they attend. They can start by removing the artificial labels they have placed on schools that create divisiveness and unfair competition between schools. The federal government should be using its resources and bully pulpit to collect and share data on successful education models for addressing wide ranging educational challenges found in public and private schools. Researching strategies for school success that can be replicated in struggling schools to help them succeed is a far better approach to ensure all children have equal educational opportunities than the “divide and conquer” approach advocated by our current U.S. Department of Education.

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