Girien Salazar on What Hispanic Evangelicals Have to Say About Betsy DeVos After Three Years

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of BCNN1. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s).

We all witnessed the greater level of attention given to Senate confirmation hearings at the beginning of President Trump’s tenure.

If you were to ask the average pastor, parent, or schoolteacher to name the Secretary of Education before 2017, hardly any could tell you. It all changed when President Trump selected Betsy DeVos, a wealthy Michigan-based education advocate known for her support of school choice, voucher programs, and charter schools, as the newly inaugurated President Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Education (ED).

Whether the political left was unfair to vehemently oppose Sec. DeVos or whether the political right was correct to receive her so emphatically, is irrelevant to the Hispanic evangelical community that I represent. As the director of the Faith and Education Coalition (FE Coalition) of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference that represents over 40,000 Hispanic evangelical churches, and as a minister with the Assemblies of God’s Texas Louisiana Hispanic District, I can attest that Hispanic evangelicals care about Sec. DeVos and ED’s work particularly in public education. On the three-year anniversary of Sec. DeVos appointment, we evaluate her commitment to promoting access to high quality public education within the Hispanic community.

The FE Coalition recognizes the importance of high-quality public education in the lives of those we represent. Hispanics now make up 26% of public school students (roughly 14 million), up from 16% twenty years ago. Additionally, in 2017 nearly three-quarters of Hispanics (73%) said improving the educational system should be a top priority for President Trump and Congress. We do not ignore the various debates surrounding school-choice or voucher programs, and we wholly support the parents’ right to explore the various educational opportunities available to their children and to choose what’s best. However, we recognize that the vast majority of Hispanic students in America will remain enrolled and continue to enroll in public schools in the coming years.

First, what we should acknowledge is that ED holds little legislative control over what happens in local public schools. Why? Because the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed in 2015 with bi-partisan support made substantial changes to its well-known predecessor, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Now with ESSA, the majority of the power to develop K-12 standards, accountability systems, and improvement measures shifted from the federal government back to the states. Also, public schools are primarily funded by local and state sources, and, on average, the federal government pays for less than 10 percent of K-12 education.

However, this has not prevented Sec. DeVos from rightly providing direction in areas which she does control and prioritize. For example, Sec. DeVos recently released guidance on constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools, which we saw as a huge win for not only Christians but members of all faith groups. Under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and ESSA the department is required to revise this guidance every two years. The last update took place eighteen years ago.

Another win for Hispanic Evangelicals includes ED’s and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) 2017 Title IX guidance for public schools during a time when many questioned how transgender community members should be expected to use public restrooms. Protestants in general (68%) believe gender is determined at birth, and under the new guidance ED and DOJ clarified that the “term ‘sex’ unambiguously refers to biological sex.” Sec. DeVos’ statement reiterated ED’s commitment to ensuring that all students “have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment” and are protected from harassment. She affirmed that solutions to these types of issues are best solved at the local and state level by the school, communities, and families, and I pray the Lord will grant us the wisdom to offer such remedies that honor God and honor the student.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Girien Salazar