What will federal policy changes mean for local public schools

Orcutt educators concerned about Devos' policies

School Choice

ORCUTT, Calif. - Betsy Devos may be the most controversial Education Secretary in U.S. history. Two Republicans voted against her confirmation, leading to the first ever 50-50 tie-breaking confirmation vote from the Vice President in the Senate.

Devos is a reformer with no experience in public education. She has been fiercely opposed by teacher's unions.

The President of the Orcutt Teachers Association is worried that Devos' support for vouchers will lead to the demise of public education, and will erode the middle class.

"She does not have the morals and values that public education needs to survive," Monique Segura said.

Vouchers would give students public money that could be used to pay for private schooling.

"She very strongly believes in the voucher system which would allow families who are already sending children to private schools to have extra funding," Segura said. "It would take funding away from our students who can't afford to go to the private sector and are in the public schools."

Federal funding accounts for less than 10 percent of the total budget for Orcutt Union schools. The money from Washington largely helps economically disadvantaged students, special education, and pays for English language learner programs.

"California has the largest percentage of English learners in the United States," Oructt Union School District Superintendent, Dr. Debbie Blow said. "We have students with special needs. We need to meet those needs. Those require extra dollars. So that is a challenge."

Devos is an advocate of school choice, which is offered in Orcutt. Families can apply to transfer to any school in the district, and Orcutt Union oversees three dependent charter school programs.

"What is being discussed that I do believe in is choice," Blow said.

Orcutt Union oversees three dependent charter school programs.

"Some people want small. Some people want big," Director of Charter Schools, Joe Dana said. "Some people want a lot of enrichment and acceleration and rigor. Some people want safety. Everybody's different."

The Orcutt Union charter schools include a home study program, a high school with 600 students and the K-8 Orcutt Academy in Los Alamos.

"Charter schools also are - in public policy - they actually were an answer within public education to stymie the voucher argument," Dana said.

California has had charter schools since the early 1990's. Former State Senator Gary K. Hart out of Santa Barbara, authored the California Charter Schools Act that was passed in 1992.

There are more than 1200 charter schools in the state today. Charters have more freedom to try new things.

Orcutt Academy is in it's ninth year as a dependent charter overseen by the district. It is full and has a wait list. Any California resident can apply to enroll in a charter school through a lottery.

Orcutt Academy is small. It has 132 students, which Dana says is part of what makes it special.
"At Orcutt Academy we don't see ourselves as the right answer," Dana said. "We see ourselves as another right answer among many right answers for kids. It just depends on the needs of the child."

If Devos opens up Federal dollars to independent charter and private schools, public educators would want to see those schools held to the same standards as all other public schools.

Dana suggests people focus more of their attention on local school boards and at the state level.

"Right now there's a lot of discussion about our new secretary of education and I follow that, but the reality is for school administrators like me, what happens in the the state of California has way, way more impact."

We also checked with the much larger Santa Maria Joint Union School District. They have a $200 million dollar budget. Ten million dollars of the budget comes from the Federal Government. That money pays for programs that benefit children from poor families, migrant education, special education, and English language learners.


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