Guns, Not Bears, Threaten Ohio Schools

Amber Scherer, Columnist

In the first confirmation vote to ever require a tiebreaker, the Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as education secretary Tuesday. DeVos was one of President Donald Trump’s most controversial cabinet nominees, provoking intense opposition from Senate Democrats and teachers’ unions.

During her confirmation hearing, DeVos was asked about her stance on firearms on school campuses, which is particularly relevant to states like Ohio that allow concealed carry on school campuses.

“I think probably there, I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies,” she said, further stating that she believes state and local authorities have jurisdiction over firearm policies in schools.

I decided to humor Secretary DeVos and statistically compare the threats of guns and bears. Since 2013, over 200 school shootings have occurred in the U.S., averaging approximately one per week, according to the nonprofit Everytown Research. The average number of deaths by bear attacks in the U.S. is 0.5 deaths annually, none of which have occurred in schools. In other words, DeVos’ delegation of authority to the states on issues like school safety zones puts Ohio students in real jeopardy.

DeVos’ dangerous views extend to the issue of school choice as well. Simply defined, “school choice” constitutes a variety of programs through which students and families can choose between traditional public schools and other educational institutions. Ohio participates in school-choice programs, which provide the following options: public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online academies and homeschooling. Of these, the most politically divisive are public charter schools.

Charter schools receive taxpayer money but are given liberty in their didactic methodology. Some Ohio charter schools, such as Breakthrough in Cleveland and KIPP in Columbus, have proven successful. Breakthrough students outperform all other Cleveland schools in every subject, and KIPP currently ranks in the top five among Ohio schools, based on its students’ improved state test scores. Yet the charter school network is riddled with instances of fraud and irresponsible spending.

“Since 2001, state auditors have uncovered more than $27 million in improperly spent funds at charter schools in Ohio. These schools misspend public money at almost four times the rate of other types of public sector agencies,” wrote Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown in September 2016.

In a Stanford University report, researchers found that Ohio charter school students generally perform worse than their public school counterparts. The report also observed that charter schools teach at a slower rate than public schools, causing charter school students to lose the equivalent of 43 days of math instruction and 14 days of reading instruction each year.

Despite these statistics, the Department of Education granted Ohio $71 million to expand charter schools last fall. Senator Brown and the Obama administration worked consistently to benefit Ohio students and taxpayers by monitoring charter schools’ performances and allocating funds accordingly. But their efforts are in jeopardy, as DeVos, the woman who now possesses the power to distribute Ohio’s educational grant, has a dismal track record in education.

DeVos belongs to a network of conservative Christian ideologues who criticize the secularism of modern American education. DeVos, her family and Christian activists have pushed for minimal restrictions on charter schools, which are the cheapest government-funded means of instilling religion in education.

Throughout the 2000s, DeVos championed school choice in Michigan as an influential conservative in the state. Unfortunately, during that period of charter school growth, Michigan’s academic progress lagged. The state’s charter schools scored worse than its public schools on national tests. DeVos was instrumental in this process. Despite the potential for charter schools to succeed alongside public schools, she gutted public schools’ government funding in favor of poorly regulated and often fraud-ridden charter schools. Even some supporters of school choice criticized her extreme laissez-faire approach. This ineptitude contradicts Senator Brown’s recent efforts to protect Ohio students and Ohio’s quality of education.

DeVos has demonstrated a flippancy regarding gun violence in schools and an unsuccessful track record in the education field. Ohioans need to watch her carefully and oppose her policies at the local and state levels to do what we can to protect our education system.