On February 7th, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education under President Donald Trump. This process – from President Trump announcing DeVos as a candidate to her confirmation – has been one of the most contested cabinet positions in modern history. In an unprecedented vote, the U.S. Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education despite widespread concerns about her comments on special education.
Several disability advocacy groups — including the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, the Council of Administrators of Special Education and the American Association of People with Disabilities — urged senators to oppose DeVos and more than three dozen other groups insisted that any vote should be delayed until she offered more specifics regarding her views on educating students with disabilities.
Because her views are unclear, those that advocate for those with disabilities are deeply concerned about the impact her role may soon play on equitable education for all.
In 1971, Northwest Center founder Evelyn Chapman began the fight for educational equity in Washington state. Her son, Coolidge, a student with a disability, was denied access to Seattle public schools. It was because of the school system’s lack of resources and knowledge regarding special education that Evelyn, along with three other mothers to students with disabilities, began their fight towards equitable education.
With their children being denied an education in public schools, the founding mothers had to hire their own teachers to develop educational programs targeted to the unique needs of their children. In 1965, Chapman and her peers founded Northwest Center with the dream of creating a sustainable program where people with disabilities could realize their fullest potential through education and career opportunities.
With support from communities just like the ones we build around us today, these families developed pioneering civil rights legislation that opened the doors of public schools to all children in Washington State. House Bill 90 (named “Education for All”), was signed into law in 1971, serving as the model for federal legislation when the United States Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) in 1975. This act is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and continues to ensure equal education opportunities for all students.
IDEA remains to be the foundation for ours and many other’s fight towards equitable education for children and teens with disabilities. Northwest Center and IDEA trace their roots back to the same founding principles of inclusion, equal opportunity, and the celebration of disabilities. It is not only what we base our work off of, but it is the foundation for the United States of America.
The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act protects students with disabilities nationally – meaning a standardized set of education milestones and funding. When Mrs. DeVos states that IDEA should be left to the states, as she stated during her hearing, what she is saying is that each state should be able to decide the importance of education equity for students with disabilities. However, even with this national law, 25 states are at or below the average spending on Support Services, and 17 of those 25 states are at or above average IEP reported cases. From these facts alone, if IDEA is left to the states, many students with disabilities would see even more setbacks from state-run programs and lack of funding.
Northwest Center will continue to advocate for the equal and equitable standards of people of all abilities. We believe that with Mrs. DeVos acting as the Secretary of Education, our programs are more vital than ever. We will continue to provide equitable education for students of all abilities, promoting acceptance and celebration of each and every individual. We hope you will join us in standing up for what we believe in.
 Support Services are one of seven parts of a larger program design to provide support to students with disabilities. IDEA funding falls under Support Services.
 IEP: Individualized Education Plan. A written document that’s developed for each public school child who is eligible for special education. The IEP is created through a team effort and reviewed at least once a year.
Northwest Center is passionate about equal rights, anti-ableism, and full inclusion for people with disabilities. Thank you for reading.