Cheryl Dachtler: The future of public education
Being a 37-year-career public school teacher, now retired, I read with interest, agreement, and dismay a piece on pulling the plug on the U.S. Department of Education (The Union, Jan. 19).
Upon learning of the appointment of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education, I, too, was stunned that a person with no training/experience in public schools would be considered for such a post. Keeping my fingers crossed that nothing so stupid occurs that might bring into question the relevance of the department that she is heading, this piece proposed that very action based on her ineptitude. The majority of the country appears to disapprove of the job performance of Donald Trump, but no one is suggesting that we eliminate one of the three branches of government based on his ineptitude.
The Department of Education administers programs that are authorized and funded by Congress. The 2018 Education Budget submitted by President Trump “requests $59 billion in discretionary appropriations for the Department of Education in fiscal year 2018 …” (See this story at TheUnion.com for a direct link to the budget).
For the 2017-2018 school year, California received $7.7 billion designated for K-12 education (U.S. Bureau of Census). These funds go into the classroom through teacher training, programs for students with special needs (special education), and the education of immigrants, American Indians, and people with limited English proficiency. Every teacher in Nevada County has direct engagement with colleagues and/or students who have or are benefitting from these funds. Beginning my teacher training (1965), I applied for and received a loan from the U.S. DOE that became eligible for “loan forgiveness” based on full-time teaching in a public school. Today, one of the six loan programs administered by the DOE, the federal Perkins Loan, allows in service teachers a forgiveness policy of up to $17,500 of the total loan amount based on contractual full-time teaching.
Every middle school and high school teacher knows of the opportunity afforded lower-income families through the PELL grants. At Scholarship Night both at Nevada Union and Bear River high schools the number of PELL grant recipients is proudly announced. PELL grants are not loans. U.S. DOE also administers the High School Graduation Initiative (School Dropout Prevention Program) to keep students participating in school, readying them for a productive adult life. The U.S. DOE administers the federal work-study program helping college (undergraduate and graduate) or career-school students earn money during their enrollment. My family members have benefitted from this program. One is now a PhD professor in Southern California.
I served as a mentor in the Teacher Induction Program in Nevada County, certifying beginning teachers for a clear credential during their first two years of contractual teaching service (2011-2018). In recent years our Nevada County branch has seen several teachers who qualify under the Transition to Teaching program. This program may allow teacher certification within a reduced period of time, relying on the individual’s experience, expertise, and academic qualifications. At a time of teacher shortage in California, this program opens the world of teaching to highly knowledgeable individuals in a timely manner.
The U.S. DOE obligated $279 million to STEM education. Every school district in Nevada County implements to some degree STEM curriculum promoting stronger, relevant instruction in science, technology, engineering and math. The Union published an article in the past year about the STEM program in the Grass Valley School District.
In his op-ed, Mr. McAteer raises the notion that “the federal government should and must have no role in our schools — it’s the law!” The landmark civil rights case Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954), ruled that racial segregation of public schools was a violation of the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment prohibits states from denying equal protection of the laws to any person within their jurisdictions. Therefore, how a state or a school district educates its people is definitely a matter of Constitutional oversight.
The term “school” or “education” may not appear in the Constitution or its amendments, but neither do “Social Security” or “Medicare.” Thankfully those programs have not been delegated to the individual states.
Mr. McAteer proposes shifting the accountability of billions of dollars of taxpayer money as block grants to individual states. The federal government must account for the money that they authorize, and that takes manpower (4,000 according to Mr. McAteer). “Filling out bureaucratic paperwork” to me is accountability — tedious work — just like keeping your personal finance records up to date and accurate, and posting all those scores for 149 students in 7th/8th grade Language Arts (Pleasant Valley School) in 2010.
Cheryl Dachtler is a National Board Certified Teacher. She lives in Nevada City.
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