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In Foxx, Trump & DeVos Have a Staunch Education Ally

By Christopher Beach, RealClearPolitics

With control of all three branches of government, Republicans are set on unraveling President Obama's education legacy and pushing an unprecedented amount of funding and authority back to states.

Leading this charge is Rep. Virginia Foxx, the newly appointed chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Her mission, as she told RealClearPolitics in an interview for the new episode of the “First 100 Days” podcast series, is to make the federal government “as minimal as possible.”

In fact, the North Carolina Republican has no qualms about abolishing the entire Department of Education. “If the Lord put me in charge, I would do it,” Foxx said. But she admitted, “I do not think it's politically feasible.”

Instead, the GOP is busy chipping away at specific Obama-era regulations related to the nation's new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). And the Trump administration just took an axe to Obama's controversial Title IX transgender restroom rules. Foxx approved of the decision and added that Obama had circumvented the legislative process and tried to “interpret into the law something that was never intended.” (At the time of her interview with RCP, the administration's decision was imminent but had not yet been issued.)

You might describe Foxx as a strict constitutionalist. The seven-term congresswoman is a staunch believer that powers not specifically granted to Congress or the executive branch by the Constitution should be delegated to the states, and that includes decisions involving education. Furthermore, she asserts that the federal government's intervention in education has not been effective.

Foxx pointed to the fact that the U.S. has spent over $3 trillion on Title I funding directed at improving outcomes for low-income students, yet “reading levels have not changed one bit since 1965.” “Something is wrong with this scenario,” she added.

(According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation's Report Card, reading scores for fourth- and eighth-graders have ticked up marginally over the past several decades, but scores for 12th-graders have remained stagnant and, in recent years, actually decreased.)

In interviews and in person, the committee chairwoman is not known to hedge or mince words. Her moxie and direct style are partly shaped by her remarkable personal journey from abject poverty to unlikely success. Growing up in Appalachia, her family didn't have electric power or running water until she was 14. At age 12, she took a job as a weaver to help provide for her family. She worked her way through high school as a janitor and became the first member of her family to graduate.

She talks openly about being raised in one of the poorest areas of the country, but stresses that it didn't stop her from succeeding. “That's what this country is about,” Foxx stated. Now, her personal goal is to protect the opportunity for anybody who grew up in similar circumstances to succeed also. 

That's one reason she is an avid supporter of school choice. While Foxx did not specifically address how Republicans in Congress will go about it, she voiced support for Trump’s and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ desire to dramatically expand school choice. She also pushed back against critics, saying they’re trying to deny children in failing schools the opportunity at a better education.

After completing high school, Foxx graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later earned both a master’s degree in college teaching and a PhD in education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She worked as a research assistant and English instructor in higher education and later became the president of Mayland Community College.

As you might expect, she's well-versed in the issues of higher education and is a vocal advocate for expanding college opportunities, whether it be through industry certification programs, two-year college or four-year degree programs. In her opinion, the United States needs to elevate the status of people who chose not to get a four-year degree. She stressed that states should develop better career and vocational training programs for students who don't want to go on to college.

Christopher Beach is the editor of RealClearEducation.

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