To my senator, who may confirm Betsy DeVos

I rarely like open letters, but this is based on what I actually sent my senators about Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, who supports taking government funding from public schools and putting it towards private/religious ones. One of my senators is on the committee that can approve her.

If you feel strongly about this issue, here are the members of the committee.

Dear Senator Roberts,

I want to speak to you, from the heart, about education. It might be long, but I hope you’ll listen.

Public schools are the backbone of American education. Senator Roberts, you represent Kansas. You know that we have outstanding schools. You also know our state is already cutting money from schools and they’re suffering. Some weren’t sure they’d open this year. We can’t afford this coming from the federal government, too.

I was fortunate enough to go to high school in a district where budget cuts might come from extra-curricular activities. I’ve done private school, religious and secular. These were very good educations, and the early years laid important groundwork. But the best education I had was at my public high school.

Yes, in some areas, public schools are bad and private school might make sense. But those are also the areas that need more funding and improvements. We can’t give up on those schools and subsequently the kids who have no option but to go there.

Beyond the debate on educational quality, I had many opportunities at public school that I didn’t at smaller private ones. I was in so many organizations and activities, and even more than fodder for a college application, they enriched me.

Your high school may have been almost exclusively white and from the same socioeconomic status. Mine too was, by all accounts, not very diverse. But I am a better person for the little diversity in it.

More than anything, what I gained from public school that I don’t think private school provided was exposure. I know sometimes this is scary. People absolutely fear what they don’t know and think exposure can lead to problems. Instead, I learned so much.

Senator, as a college student, I likely have more memories from high school than many congresspeople. I know diversification has been a rapid increase, especially in less urban areas. Your high school may have been almost exclusively white and from the same socioeconomic status. Mine was, by all accounts, not very diverse. But I am a better person for the little diversity in it.

There was a girl I knew in high school who made choices I wouldn’t and in many ways didn’t live a life I wanted to emulate. But I noticed how she talked to the “weird” or “crazy” kids that others would ignore, avoid or just passively tolerate. I watched her genuinely engage with some of them if they shared a class.

It was a reminder that even if I disagree with someone’s choices, they can still have good character. Without the diverse body of students at my high school, I don’t know how well I could have learned this lesson.

I also knew girls in my school district who were teen mothers. We didn’t have high enough teen pregnancy rates to have daycare at school, but there were options for continuing education. Some went online, some got their GED. Some came back to their original school, taking a few classes and then also working to support themselves and their babies.

That’s hard work, that’s determination, and I respect them for it.

The vast majority of us will interact with a wide array of people in our lives, with different backgrounds, experiences and beliefs. Becoming used to those interactions creates more respectful and more productive encounters.

Yes, not every area is diverse. Some schools pull from almost exclusively white or exclusively black neighborhoods. But that’s also why I only list exposure as one benefit to public schools.

The most fundamental reason we must support our public schools is because the majority of our future generation will attend them. Even if money normally going to public schools can be used toward private schools, as DeVos points out, that still doesn’t make it affordable for many Americans.

My parents pulled me out from private school because the cost increased significantly. I thank God they made that choice for me. That money they saved instead of sending me to private school is helping pay for my college now.

When money is taken from public schools, it hurts the kids who don’t have the money to switch schools, and the quality of their school goes down. A child’s talents, whether they are at an expensive private school or a rural Kansas public school, are no different. Neither is more deserving of a good education than the other.

Betsy DeVos, who recently testified before you, believes in school privatization. She has worked to undermine regulations that were created to ensure a certain standard of education. Her solutions are for a privileged few; for many, it will damage their educational opportunities. Her lack of knowledge about educational problems today and her attitude towards public schools should disqualify her.

I know it is easy, regardless of what side of the aisle you sit on, to vote your party. I’m imploring you, please break that trend. This isn’t about politics, it’s about the youth of this country. Vote for their prosperity, and reject Betsy DeVos.

Originally published at by Emily Milakovic on 1.25.17.
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