Baldwin has questions for DeVos tied to school closings

    U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Photo by Gage Skidmore. (Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0)
    U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Photo by Gage Skidmore. (Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0)

    One day before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and the UW-Madison (and other campuses) announced suspension of classes, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and a cadre of fellow Senate Democrats laid out 14 questions for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. They asked for answers on how schools and universities should handle urgent issues that have arisen as schools are closed due to this coronavirus.

    ““Secretary Devos and the U.S. Department of Education need to provide more clarity and guidance as schools prepare to make difficult decisions about closures,” says Baldwin.

    Then Wednesday, Senate Democrats laid out an economic response plan of their own focused on workers.

    Sen. Tammy Baldwin headshot
    Sen. Tammy Baldwin

    Tuesday’s letter is Baldwin’s second request for information, following a March 2 letter raising questions on how the department will protect students, faculty and school staff. 

    “We urge the U.S. Department of Education to consider several serious issues related to school closure as it works with school districts, state education agencies, educators, and institutions of higher education, as well as with the President’s Task Force and public health officials,” wrote the senators.

    In addition, Senate Democrats unveiled a plan Wednesday to get targeted economic and community relief to states dealing with the coronavirus. They take issue with plans from the Trump administration that primarily benefit “wealthier individuals and corporations.” Saying that economic relief must predominately be directed toward “the most affected American workers and their families.”

    “While following social distancing guidelines may be important to mitigate the spread of the virus, it creates potentially grave economic challenges for American workers who are not easily able to telework or who do not have access to paid leave,” they wrote.

    “No one should have to choose between keeping their job and protecting their health. We need emergency paid sick leave for workers during the #coronavirus outbreak,” Baldwin added on Facebook.

    The senators pushed DeVos and the Department of Education to provide guidance on questions including:

    • How colleges and universities should help students enrolled in programs of study abroad affected by the spread of the virus;
    • How colleges and universities should help students preserve  their federal financial aid if they have to leave school due to the spread of the virus;
    • How the Department of Education will help federal student loan borrowers if they cannot work due to the spread of the virus;
    • How the Department of Education will adjust financial aid for families affected  by the spread of the virus (including job losses or closures).

    They had further questions on K-12 schools. For example, how will schools make certain students can access school lunch programs or mental health services remotely? What will be done to help students who do not have home access to computers or the internet or students with disabilities?

    The senators asked for a response from DeVos’ agency no later than March 24. 

    Melanie Conklin
    Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.