Betsy DeVos Nomination: Thankfully, ESSA Would Tie Her Hands


The nomination of Betsy DeVos as the United States Secretary of Education has been a contentious issue among educators, parents, and politicians. Some view her as a champion for school choice and vouchers, while others raise concerns about her qualifications and commitment to public education. One significant factor that seems to be overlooked amidst the debates is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which has the potential to limit the influence DeVos might have on educational policy.

Background on Betsy DeVos:

Betsy DeVos, a billionaire businesswoman and philanthropist from Michigan, has been a long-time advocate for educational reform. She is a staunch proponent of school choice, which aims at providing parents with more control over their children’s education by allowing them the option of selecting private schools, public schools or charter schools. Her critics argue that her limited experience in public education may not provide her with an in-depth understanding of the issues faced by schools across the nation.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA):

Passed with bipartisan support in December 2015, ESSA replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as the main federal legislation governing K-12 education policy. ESSA aimed to provide states with more autonomy when it came to setting standards, designing assessments, and establishing accountability systems for their schools. While still mandating key aspects such as annual testing and interventions for underperforming schools, it significantly reduced federal control over education policies.

How ESSA Would Tie DeVos’ Hands:

1. Limited intervention in state policies: Under ESSA, the federal government’s role in dictating state policies is curtailed. This means DeVos would find it challenging to implement drastic changes without consulting state governments. This restriction makes implementing policies such as nationwide voucher programs increasingly difficult without extensive negotiations and approvals from states.

2. Maintaining federal requirements: ESSA still imposes various federal requirements, such as annual standardized testing. DeVos would need to work within the confines of these mandates when proposing alterations to educational policies at the national level.

3. Accountability measures: ESSA requires states to establish their own accountability systems, aimed at providing support for underperforming schools. While DeVos could try influencing state-level policies, she would face an uphill battle due to states’ newfound autonomy in this area.

4. Checks and balances: The U.S. Department of Education still has oversight on various aspects of ESSA implementation, but its authority is now reduced in comparison to the NCLB era. With Congress having a significant role in overseeing educational policy, DeVos would be constrained by checks and balances within the political system.


Ultimately, although Betsy DeVos’ nomination for Secretary of Education has raised concerns among education stakeholders, the Every Student Succeeds Act ensures that her influence on national policies is limited. The act’s provisions prioritize state-level autonomy and maintain vital federal requirements that guide educational policy in the United States. While her appointment represents a change in direction for the Department of Education, it is crucial to remember that her power will be constrained by existing legislation like ESSA and built-in political mechanisms available within our democracy.

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