There is no doubt about what the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants to do with the American school system. Her advocacy for private school vouchers and choice programs have long been in the news.
However, the most recent development in her anti-public education plans is her proposed rollback and delay of an Obama-era rule that ensures that special education in the public school system does not have any racial disparities.
Delaying, or even worse entirely scrapping, the implementation of this law would ultimately be harmful to students around the country, especially special needs students of color.
At this point, changing DeVos’ mind and tackling the root of the problem will be an extremely difficult task. So instead, the issue needs to be examined from a state and local level, which happens to bring U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano, who represents the 15th Congressional District, into play.
Although it’s clear Serrano has taken many positive steps on education already — in fact, he previously worked in the education field and views it as one of his highest priorities — it’s time for him to pick up the pace even more.
District 15 can be potentially harmed by this rollback, so if Serrano wants to satisfy and cater to the needs of his people in the 2018 election and beyond, he needs to actively stop the education department’s delay on the Obama-era rule preventing disparities in special education.
Children matter everywhere, but especially in District 15, which is a prime example of an area that would be hurt with the absence of a disparity rule like this one. According to the latest census data, District 15 residents under 19 make up more than 31 percent of the population. Of that, 216,756 children have disabilities that are physical, cognitive or otherwise.
In addition, the census also found that more than 84 percent of families in the district are a racial minority (most happen to be black or Hispanic), and more than 32 percent live under the poverty line.
When combined, these four factors work together to create a less-than-ideal situation. Research and observation have shown that children of color are often extremely underprivileged in terms of education, facing academic and behavioral disparities that, according to Lindsay Cook of U.S. News, “begin in preschool and continue through every level of schooling.”
When those children are also faced with disabilities and aren’t financially well off, it is extremely hard for them to get ahead without the proper care and attention.
Since District 15 houses a majority under 18, non-white population with a significant number of impoverished and disabled individuals, it is especially important that the special education rule is put into place there.
The achievement gap in places like District 15 is giant, and as past initiatives by Serrano and various other public officials have shown, the best solution is to implement affirmative action-type programs that increase funding in areas that help underprivileged children. Delaying this rule would do simply the opposite, therefore widening the gap and increasing disparities.
Essentially, if this rule is delayed, the people of District 15 would be let down. To them, achieving adequate educational opportunities for their children is beyond important, and because of their simple entitlement to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, should be guaranteed.
Education seems to be one of the most important issues in and around District 15. But after being so invested in education, being forced to live in a setting where their children — many of whom may have special needs — are not given access to the same levels of education as their white peers is discouraging and heartbreaking for minority parents.
There’s almost no doubt Serrano will win the 2018 election. Voting patterns from District 15 have shown residents are largely affiliated with the Democratic Party. In fact, Serrano has won by a high majority of 85 percent or more in the last three elections.
Tackling the special education rule, therefore, is not necessarily a matter of helping the congressman win, but rather, fulfilling a duty to the people of the district.
Serrano already recognizes the government “has a responsibility to encourage students to pursue higher education, and to provide them with the funding they need to achieve their potential.” He already has passed a bill calling for more para-educators in schools in order to assist special needs students of color.
But if he uses these prior actions as an excuse to sit back and abstain from education reform in the upcoming election cycle, he will be doing a disservice to the people of District 15.
Many of them have children of color, or children with disabilities. It is extremely clear that neglecting these children can only lead to negative effects, and as stated by researchers from Penn State University, “is discriminatory, and may be exacerbating educational inequalities, including achievement gaps and school dropout.”
If Rep. Serrano wants to be a loyal, caring representative who truly represents the interests of his people, he must begin lobbying and fighting to bring DeVos’ delay of the disparities rule into Congress so he and others can vote against and defeat it.
The author is a sophomore at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, where the AP Government class was assigned to study a specific congressional district, and then as a final assignment, write an editorial addressed to the representative of that district.