What Could Be More Democratic Than Pushing Vouchers for a Billionaire US Ed Sec?
By Mercedes Schneider
US ed sec Betsy DeVos has one principal goal for American public education: Slice up its public funding and dispense it in the form of vouchers that can (and will) take that funding out of the public purview and into private school coffers.
DeVos’ voucher push has created a dynamic in which many pro-charter advocates feel that their slice of public money is threatened as it would enable their *choice* students to exit in favor of private schools.
Charter schools often refer to themselves as “public schools”; however, charter schools are often not held accountable to the public for the spending of that public money. Thus, charter schools are schools that receive public money, not public schools (i.e., operated by publicly-elected school boards).
Charter schools further enjoy the reality of not having to educate all students in a country in which states have compulsory education laws. The public schools are the “catch-all” of compulsory education. Charter schools are not.
If DeVos has her voucherizing way, then charter schools– which operate like private schools that receive public money– would have to compete with both public schools and private schools for public money.
Therefore, it makes sense that the likes of Stand for Children’s Jonah Edelman would appear in the Los Angeles Times blasting vouchers.
It also makes sense to me that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten would be by his side, even going so far as to promote charter schools as “schools that are accountable to voters”– even though charter schools are not accountable to voters. Weingarten has an established history of promoting corporate reform ideas, including VAM, Common Core, and charter schools, and she will slap the AFT endorsement on political candidates who push corporate reform so long as those candidates are Democrats who seem likely to win their races.
In this May 31, 2017, post, education historian Diane Ravitch takes issue with Weingarten’s promoting charter schools as schools accountable to voters:
Randi Weingarten and Jonah Edelman co-wrote an article in today’s Los Angeles Times, standing strong against vouchers.
I still remember Jonah Edelman as the guy who bragged at the Aspen Ideas Festival that he had crushed the teachers’ union in Chicago by buying up all the best lobbyists and raising the bar for a strike to 75% of the membership. I remember that he went to Massachusetts and threatened a referendum unless the unions capitulated to his demands. Stand for Children was showered with millions by the Gates Foundation and other promoters of the corporate reform agenda. Edelman strongly supports charter schools, even though they promote racial segregation.
In the middle of a strong article against vouchers, this paragraph was dropped in:
We believe taxpayer money should support schools that are accountable to voters, open to all, nondenominational and transparent about students’ progress. Such schools — district and charter public schools — are part of what unites us as a country.
It is public schools that unite us as a country, not charter schools. We have seen a steady parade of scandals, frauds, abuses, waste of taxpayer dollars, exclusion of children with special needs, from the charter sector. …
Charter schools exist to bust unions and undermine public schools.
The same day, on May 31, 2017, Ravitch posted about the American Federation for Children (AFC) response to the Edelman-Weingarten Los Angeles Times piece.
AFC was founded by DeVos; another AFC founding board member, Kevin Chavous, responded.
One can read the entire Chavous response in the Ravitch post linked above.
One section caught my attention:
It is school choice–directly empowering parents to choose the best educational environment for their child–that is the most democratic of ideas. Rather than undermining public schools, choice helps public schools by virtue of having to compete with other options. Only among the K-12 establishment would competition be considered undermining public schools.
Let’s begin examining the above Chavousian pro-voucher logic with sentence one:
It is school choice–directly empowering parents to choose the best educational environment for their child–that is the most democratic of ideas.
The US history of school vouchers is hardly “democratic.” In 1955, both Virginia and North Carolina issued tuition grants to allow public school students to attend private schools as a means of dodging racial integration required of Brown vs. Board of Education. One Virginia county even closed all of its public schools and issued private school tuition grants to white children only.
I detail this voucher history in my book, School Choice: The End of Public Education?.
In 1961, Louisiana used tuition grants to private schools in order to preserve segregation. Even though all students receive tuition grants, students of color were only allowed to attend non-white private schools.
In Alabama in the early 1960s, the governor promised (and delivered) a whites-only private school, which was declared unconstitutional in 1964.
Other states (e.g., South Carolina, Mississippi) played games with their public schools in an attempt to avoid desegregation.
However, the best “democratic” effort to preserve racial segregation “by any lawful means” (i.e., creating tuition vouchers to private schools) involved numerous legislators signing a document called the “Southern Manifesto.” Specifically, 19 senators and 77 representatives from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia agreed to pursue legal efforts to avoid the federal integration mandate.
A favorite “legal” means of enforcing racial segregation was use of the private school voucher.
Of course, all vouchers were not created equal. That was the point.
And now, let’s examine this Chavous comment:
Rather than undermining public schools, choice helps public schools by virtue of having to compete with other options.
Note that the history of vouchers in the USA often involved closing the public schools and sending students to private schools using public money in order for states to avoid integrating the public schools. In other words, vouchers to private schools not only did not help the public schools; it also reinforced the reality that private school choice is an easy vehicle for reinforcing segregation. In the case of 1960s Louisiana, even though all parents in theory were “empowered” by receiving private school vouchers, the schools themselves had the final “choice” as to whether or not a student was allowed to enroll.
Don’t think it cannot happen in 2017.
And don’t think that creative voucher games cannot be played, such as allowing “undesirable” students to enroll and then booting them out for trivialities.
The public school accepts all students because the public school was created to answer the requirement of compulsory education.
Now, if Chavous really wants to give parents “choice,” he could advocate to kill compulsory education altogether. Let parents decide if they want to school their kids, period. However, even “father of school choice,” economist Milton Friedman, wasn’t willing to forsake compulsory education “if only 50 percent would be literate.”
As for school vouchers improving public schools, Friedman expected private schools to replace the public school “government system”:
I see the voucher as a step in moving away from a government system to a private system. Now maybe I’m wrong, maybe it wouldn’t have that effect, but that’s the reason I favor it.
In the business world, “competing with other options” often means going out of business. Just ask Kodak, Compaq, Woolworth’s, E.F. Hutton, and Eastern Airlines.
If Chavous maintains that vouchers “help” public schools, he needs to prove it. Indeed, I invite him to fly to New Orleans on Eastern Airlines to show me in person.
Let’s consider Chavous’ last sentence cited above:
Only among the K-12 establishment would competition be considered undermining public schools.
According to Chavous, the only resistance to school vouchers involves K12 ed trying to preserve itself.
Yet there are no vouchers in DeVos’ home state of Michigan, and Betsy is a billionaire who loves vouchers. How can this be?
Answer: Despite the DeVos effort of spending at least $12.9 million in 2000 to amend the Michigan constitution to allow for public school vouchers for private religious schools the measure was opposed, 69 to 31 percent.
The union spent $6 million.
The DeVoses outspent the teachers union more than 2 to 1.
I ask Chavous: What could be more democratic than voters deciding to oppose public money flowing to private schools despite billionaire financing of an effort to promote it?
At least $12.9 million from one family.
Surely not all 69 percent of those Michigan voters represented “the K12 establishment”– but even if they did, they utilized the democratic process to uphold what was already part of the Michigan constitution (which the “K12 establishment” did not originally draft):
No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school.
But Betsy isn’t giving up. When her family’s $12.9 million didn’t pay off, she established the org/PAC, Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), to promote school choice in Michigan, and she still has AFC.
And she still has you, Mr. Chavous.
What could be more democratic?
Related: Garn Press Education Books
- Teaching without Testing: Assessing the Complexity of Children’s Literacy Learning
- Preparing the Nation’s Teachers to Teach Reading: A Manifesto in Defense of “Teacher Educators Like Me”
- First Do No Harm: Progressive Education In A Time Of Existential Risk
- Raising Peacemakers
- Negotiating a Permeable Curriculum
- A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century
- The Educator And The Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges The Gates Foundation
- Beware the Roadbuilders: Literature as Resistance
- Ken Goodman – The 1992-1993 Interviews of Renowned Reading Scholars
- What’s Whole In Whole Language In The 21st Century?
- Save Our Children, Save Our School, Pearson Broke The Golden Rule: A Satire
- Great Women Scholars: Yetta Goodman, Maxine Greene, Louise Rosenblatt, Margaret Meek Spencer
- Nineteen Clues: Great Transformations Can Be Achieved Through Collective Action