Controversial New Education Secretary's Impact May Be Limited

Feb 8, 2017

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary.  DeVos’s nomination was controversial, and it took a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence to confirm her in the post.  But despite that, one education expert says her appointment may not have all that much effect – at least at first.

Dr. Laurie Elish-Piper, Dean of the NIU College of Education
Credit NIU

Laurie Elish-Piper, Dean of the College of Education at Northern Illinois University, says DeVos may have strong views, but she’s circumscribed in her actions by current law -- especially the Every Student Succeeds Act passed in 2015.  

DeVos could divert some funding from one program to another, Elish-Piper says, but there are limits to what the Education Secretary can do on her own.

“If they want to start new programs --for example, to support school choice -- they would have to get approval from Congress in order to be able to get that funding to initiate such programs, she says.

Elish-Piper says that, while DeVos could have more influence long-term, most school policy remains under state and, especially, local control.

Most of the public discussion around DeVos has centered on secondary education, but Elish-Piper says DeVos also will have influence on policies important to colleges and universities.

“Certainly, federal student loans fall under the U.S. Department of Education. Federal work-study. Title IX," Elish-Piper says. "All of those types of programs directly impact higher education and certainly could be felt at NIU.”

Elish-Piper strongly encourages people with concerns about the future of education policy and how it might affect them to talk to their local school boards, administrators or teachers.