The Betsy DeVos School Choice Lie by Mercedes Schneider
By Mercedes Schneider
If you think that US ed sec Betsy DeVos wants anything other than to end American public education and replace it with an a-la-carte, private-school-favoring menu of largely underregulated school-like options, think again.
This, readers, is her single goal. And if you don’t agree with her, you are of limited intellect and capability.
Consider these excerpts, which she gave on May 22, 2017, as part of a speech to a pro-voucher group that she founded, the American Federation for Children (AFC):
We’ve had 30 years of “reform.”
And while we celebrate the progress that has been made, each year there are still far too many kids falling through the cracks.
The time has expired for “reform”. We need a transformation – a transformation that will open up America’s closed and antiquated education system.
If we really want to help students, then we need to focus everything about education on individual students – funding, supporting and investing in them. Not in buildings; not in systems.
It shouldn’t matter where a student learns so long as they are actually learning.
It shouldn’t matter if learning takes place in a traditional public school, a Catholic school, a charter school, a non-sectarian private school, a Jewish school, a home school, a magnet school, an online school, any customized combination of those schools – or in an educational setting yet to be developed. …
We must offer the widest number of quality options to every family and every child. Empowering parents with choices is how to give students second, third or fourth chances before it’s too late.
Even the most expensive, state-of-the-art, high-performing school will not be the perfect fit for every single child. Parents know – or can figure out – what learning environment is best for their child, and we must give them the right to choose where that may be.
But it’s not enough to promote choice simply for the sake of choice. That doesn’t serve kids. If a menu is full of bad options, then do you really have a choice at all?
The point is to provide quality options that serve students so each of them can grow. Every option should be held accountable, but they should be directly accountable to parents and communities, not to Washington, DC bureaucrats.
In order to succeed, education must commit to excellence and innovation to better meet the needs of individual students. Defenders of our current system have regularly been resistant to any meaningful change. In resisting, these “flat-earthers” have chilled creativity and stopped American kids from competing at the highest levels. Our current framework is a closed system that relies on one-size-fits-all solutions. We need an open system that envelopes choices and embraces the future.
DeVos tosses in words like “quality” and “accountable”; however, she also states time and again that regulation of her quality word salad “should be left up to the states”– which means that states can do whatever they wish because they get the ultimate choice in her school choice utopia.
And if you don’t agree, it isn’t because you could see some legitimate problem with her utopia. No, no. It is because you are the problem with your limited vision.
You are a “flat-earther.”
You “chill creativity.”
DeVos began this speech with her favored “evidence” of the rightness of school choice: The individual student “choice” success story. In the above speech, she included three.
DeVos never speaks of individual choice failures– of situations in which choice schools excluded students, or closed, or misspent money, or otherwise introduced individual and community upheaval and chaos.
She simply assumes in her two-dimensional choice world that choice always turns out well, and she wants America to buy into her beliefs, period.
Here is her oversight responsibility side exit, as included in her AFC speech:
We shouldn’t view this, however, as a chance to mandate a one-size-fits-all school choice proposal. We all fundamentally know one size doesn‘t fit all…and that we won’t accomplish our goals by creating a new federal bureaucracy or by bribing states with their own taxpayers’ money. We should have zero interest in substituting the current big government approach for our own big government approach.
When it comes to education, no solution, not even ones we like, should be dictated or run from Washington, DC.
Let me be clear. I firmly believe every state should provide choices and embrace equal opportunity in education. But those are decisions states must make. No two states are the same and no two states’ approaches will be the same – and that’s a good thing. States are the best laboratories of our democracy.
Washington will push school choice in states; it will dangle the fiscal carrot above states, but it won’t offer a modicum of responsible, wise oversight for that money to states.
In short, DeVos refuses to acknowledge that state voucher programs could lead to student abuse.
Consider her May 24, 2017, testimony before the House Appropriations Committee as captured in this Washington Post Answer Sheet article:
Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) said that one private school in Indiana that is a voucher school says it may deny admission to students who are LGBT or who come from a family where there is “homosexual or bisexual activity.” She asked DeVos whether she would tell the state of Indiana that it could not discriminate in that way if it were to accept federal funding through a new school choice program. Clark further asked what DeVos would say if a voucher school were not accepting African American students and the state “said it was okay.”
To Clark’s question about whether she would step in, DeVos responded: “Well again, the Office of Civil Rights and our Title IX protections are broadly applicable across the board, but when it comes to parents making choices on behalf of their students …”
Clark interrupted and said, “This isn’t about parents making choices, this is about the use of federal dollars. Is there any situation? Would you say to Indiana, that school cannot discriminate against LGBT students if you want to receive federal dollars? Or would you say the state has the flexibility?”
DeVos said: “I believe states should continue to have flexibility in putting together programs …”
Clark interrupted, saying: “So if I understand your testimony — I want to make sure I get this right. There is no situation of discrimination or exclusion that if a state approved it for its voucher program that you would step in and say that’s not how we are going to use our federal dollars?”
DeVos said she didn’t want to answer a hypothetical question. Clark said it wasn’t hypothetical, and asked if she saw any circumstance that the federal government would tell a state that it could not allow a private voucher school to discriminate against students.
At that point time expired, but DeVos was allowed to respond.
DeVos: “I go back to the bottom line — is we believe parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children’s schooling and education decisions, and too many children are trapped in schools that don’t work for them. We have to do something different. We have to do something different than continuing a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. And that is the focus. And states and local communities are best equipped to make these decisions.”
Clark: “I am shocked that you cannot come up with one example of discrimination that you would stand up for students.”
The chairman of the subcommittee said she wasn’t required to answer. She didn’t and the discussion moved on.
In her response above, DeVos just defended the right of the school to discriminate at the expense of the right of the parent or student to choose the school. In short, she just made her entire voucher ad campaign of the right of the parent and student a decided lie.
And that DeVos choice lie applies to special needs students, as well. Also from the Washington Post article:
Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), who is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, discussed the federal Individual With Disabilities in Education Act, which provides federal protections for students with disabilities.
Lowey noted that in voucher and voucher-like programs in which public money is used to pay for private school tuition and educational expenses, families are often required to sign away their IDEA protections, including due process when a school fails to meet a child’s needs. Lowey asked DeVos if she thought that was fair.
DeVos responded that it should be up to the states to decide how to run their own programs, and then she referred to a tax credit program in Florida, where tens of thousands of students with disabilities attend private school with public money. Florida is one of those states that requires voucher recipients to give up their IDEA rights.
“Each state deals with this issue in their own manner,” she said.
In DeVos voucher world, the school gets to be the ultimate chooser, and if states (which also outrank parents and students in choosing) choose not to do a thing about it, well, that it just fine with DeVos.
If the states want to allow discrimination and segregation, it’s their choice. So long as it is done in the name of school choice, DeVos offers her blessing.
About Mercedes Schneider
Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education. She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published June 12, 2015, and a third book released July 2016, School Choice: The End of Public Education?
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