Will Betsy DeVos Uphold These Faith-Rooted Principles on Public Education? 

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Later today U.S. Senate confirmation hearings begin for Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Education. If confirmed DeVos will lead the primary government agency tasked with establishing policy and administering most federal funding for public education and enforcing federal educational laws regarding civil rights.

How should Christians who care about the most vulnerable think about her nomination?

As a Christian, African-American woman, and former educator, I believe it is incumbent on people of faith to pray for our leaders and hold them accountable to maintaining our nation’s investments in universal public education and addressing the extreme disparities in our system that disproportionately impact low-income families and children of color. That’s why I started The Expectations Project, an organization that mobilizes people of faith around education equity.

This morning The Expectations Project, joined by Jim Wallis and more than a dozen national Christian leaders, released a statement — the Mathew 25 Declaration on Public Education — calling on the incoming administration, and education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, to commit to faith-rooted principles to guide their decision-making for the next for years.

The Declaration, inspired by the Matthew 25 Pledge to protect the most at-risk under a Trump administration, calls on Christians to pledge to stand alongside students from our nation's most vulnerable communities and hold the incoming administration and secretary of education accountable to advancing a high-quality public education.

“A high-quality public education is indispensable to the moral imperative of ensuring all children have an equal opportunity at achieving their God-given potential regardless of their zip code, money their parents make, or color of their skin,” reads the statement. It goes on to outline four principles for evaluating the policies, actions and decisions of our nation's leaders.

Here are the four faith-rooted principles outlined by the Declaration:

  1. All God's children should have access to a high-quality public education. We will support policies aimed at expanding educational opportunities and improving academic outcomes for all our nation’s students, especially the most vulnerable.
  2. Budgets are moral documents, revealing our nation’s true values and priorities. We urge our leaders to draw a circle of protection around programs designed to benefit our nation’s most vulnerable students and will defend these programs when threatened.
  3. Our nation's leaders are important moral role models, and their example is often followed and emulated by our youngest citizens. Acts of bullying, misogyny and bigotry are a violation of Christian values and represent a dangerous coarsening of our culture.
  4. We stand in solidarity with students from communities that are particularly vulnerable in our nation today — immigrants, refugees, young people of color, religious minorities, and others — and will resist all policies that further marginalize them.

It is our hope that Christians join us in standing up for these faith-rooted principles.

DeVos is an evangelical Christian, billionaire philanthropist, and prominent conservative political activist who often cites her faith as the motivating factor behind her efforts to reform public education. She has been a polarizing figure in educational circles. Her supporters argue that she is trying to shake up an educational status quo that has failed too many students, families, and communities. Critics say she embraces policies that undermine public education and reinforce extreme disparities. DeVos is a strong advocate for vouchers, a mechanism for giving families the option to send their kids to private schools using government funds. She also led efforts in Michigan to give charter and private schools freedom to operate outside accountability measures that apply to traditional public schools, and advocated for dissolving Detriot's school district.

We believe the four principles in the Declaration are vital to ensuring that all our values — especially the biblical imperative to defend the most vulnerable — are reflected by the incoming education secretary and no further steps are taken to weaken our already struggling public schools. For Christians, standing with our nation’s children is a moral imperative that requires action.

Nicole Baker Fulgham is the founder and president of The Expectations Project. She is a former Teach For America vice president, public school teacher and author of Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can & Should Do to Help Improve Low-income Public Schools for Kids.

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