Maybe they shouldn’t have been quite so worried. Nearly six months into her new job, a politically hamstrung DeVos is having a tough time getting her agenda off the ground.
• Key Republicans in Congress have already dealt a big blow to her signature school choice ambitions by giving them the cold shoulder in the budget process.
• She’s way behind in staffing up the Education Department, including top positions.
• State chiefs and local superintendents complain about mixed messages coming from her department on just how free they are to set their own course on policy.
• One of her closest allies on Capitol Hill has taken a key member of her team to task over implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, arguably the most important K-12 item on the department’s plate.
• Protestors continue to dog her public appearances, making it harder for her to take advantage of one of the most important tools in her arsenal: the bully pulpit.
And DeVos, who was approved by the Senate after a bruising confirmation process, remains a polarizing figure far beyond the Beltway.
Some local school leaders continue to question DeVos’ qualifications for her job, given that she’s never worked in a public school and never sent her children to one.
John Skretta, the superintendent of the 2,400-student Norris School District in Firth, Neb., doesn’t detect in DeVos “a desire to learn and grow an understanding of public education,” including in rural districts, like his. What’s more, he said, district leaders don’t have a clear idea of what’s going on at the agency that’s supposed to provide them with funding and guidance.
“The opacity of the DeVos era and the Department of Education is troubling,” Skretta said. The lack of communication fuels educators’ worst fears about the secretary’s agenda, he said.
But Arizona state Sen. Debbie Lesko, a Republican who has championed private school choice legislation, said DeVos’ critics are uncomfortable that she wants to shake up the K-12 landscape and give more power to parents and students.
“It would be easier to go along with the status quo, but the status quo isn’t always working,” said Lesko, adding that it’s far too early to judge DeVos’ effectiveness. “Give her a chance, she’s only been in there a few months.”