DeVos defends national school voucher plan, ignoring harm to students

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by Félix Pérez

US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, addressing a school voucher advocacy organization she founded, funded and chaired, rolled out the Trump administration’s voucher plan, which would take $1.4 billion in scarce resources from neighborhood public schools to give to private school vouchers.

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Speaking in Indianapolis last night before the American Federation for Children, an organization DeVos chaired before President Trump picked her as education secretary, DeVos did not mention that the money to fund the “most ambitious” voucher and charter school plan “in our nation’s history” is to come from the elimination of 22 education programs and initiatives, such as after-school and summer programs, class size reduction, and teacher recruitment and training.

DeVos’ remarks were short on specifics and long on platitudes and slights. She declared educators and proponents of public schools are “resistant to any meaningful change.” She described advocates of public education as “flat-earthers.” Using a straw man argument, DeVos said elected officials who oppose the Trump-DeVos plan “do not support equal opportunity for all kids.”

Lily Eskelsen García, former Utah Teacher of the Year, said the Trump-DeVos voucher plan is part and parcel of a “reckless and irresponsible” budget that slashes $10.6 billion from education. Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said:

Vouchers do not work and they take scarce funding away from public schools — where 90 percent of America’s students enroll — and give it to private schools that are unaccountable to the public. Spending money on voucher programs means denying students the opportunities they deserve in their neighborhood public schools.

DeVos failed to mention that her national voucher plan would compel taxpayers to fund two different education systems – one public and one private. Nor did DeVos address how vouchers could devastate rural communities, where there are no or few private school options, and schools often serve as the social center of the community and the sole provider of critical services such as summer lunch and programs, food pantries and sports.

Teresa Meredith

Kindergarten teacher Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said DeVos, who praised Indiana’s voucher program in her remarks, “lacks the awareness and understanding of even the most basic education issues.” Meredith, who spoke out about DeVos’ speech on the steps of the statehouse, said: ”

DeVos came into office with the intention to promote voucher programs nationwide, as she did here in Indiana through her political action committee. We in Indiana know that vouchers take scarce funding away from public schools and give it to private, often religious, schools that are unaccountable to the public.

Indiana has the largest school voucher program in the nation. Vice President Mike Pence, then governor of Indiana, expanded the program dramatically in 2013. But as a National Public Radio story pointed out this month, the program has troubling shortcomings, including:

  • Private voucher schools get to choose which students they accept, unlike public schools, which must accept every student.
  • Voucher schools have the right to turn away students with disabilities.
  • According to research by Mark Berends of Notre Dame and R. Joseph Waddington of the University of Kentucky, Indianapolis students in grades 3-8 who left public schools to attend private Catholic schools experienced no benefit in reading but “moderate and statistically significant average annual losses in mathematics compared with the gains they experienced while attending traditional public schools.”
  • Fifty-five percent of the students who use vouchers were already attending private schools, contradicting a central justification for the program, that it was designed to benefit students from low-income families.
  • Roughly 40 percent of all private school students in Indiana receive a state voucher.
  • The voucher program has created a $53 million deficit in the state’s education budget.
  • Schools receiving voucher funds are not required to submit annual financial reports, a loophole that has resulted in cases of financial mismanagement.
  • Private voucher schools can deny a student based on academic or disciplinary history.

During her remarks, DeVos commented that spreading vouchers nationwide will not be easy. Public school advocates “will not go quietly into the night,” she said.

Meredith agreed. “We will not sit back and be quiet as public schools in Indiana and nationwide are threatened.”

Reader Comments

  1. neovouchers is where they will be heading and it is a crafty way of using tax payer dollars to pay for students to attend private or corporate schools. We truly need this money to keep our public schools rich (rich in the arts, rich with after school activities, rich with nutrition programs…). Thank you for this expert article.

  2. No, she was probably educated in a private school where there are no regulations or repercussions for inferior achievement.

  3. The underlying purpose of vouchers is the proponents want to control both what children learn and HOW they learn. This is the definition of “indoctrination” , pure and simple. Remember, a few years back the Texas Republican party Platform had a plank that wanted the end of creative thinking and Higher Order Thinking Skills being taught in Texas ‘s schools!

  4. Standing in line at McDonalds, I heard a parent of two young children make the following comment about our local public elementary school which has a 4 star rating. “My children attend the local tabernacle school because the public school is were SATAN dwells” Our tax dollars are promoting this ideology?

  5. You should be using the funds to improve our Public School System. Not ruin them and cause more division in our country. President Trump and DeVos are proving neither are qualified for the jobs in which they were trusted to do. Those of us who support our Public School System will fight you to the bitter end and you both better remember you work for us.

      1. Typical response which was not needed. If you did your research, it has been proven charters and vouchers students prove to score the same or BELOW public school students. Therefore, your comment is unwarranted, based on ignorance and not backed by data.

      2. Ronna – Why do make that assumption? You can’t attack the substance of Jennifer’s message, so it’s open season to attack the messenger?

    1. Who died and made you English teacher for a day? Look the public schools are the backbone of the middle class. They are the reason that many of us got the jobs that we have or had. I went to school in Detroit in the 50’s and then went to Wayne State and then taught for 47 years in the public schools. These people are taking a career that used to be a good way to make a living and help others and turning it into situations where young kids going into education really have to think twice about whether they want to be a teacher or not. Most of the people that I knew that went into education went into it because it was a passion, something that they really loved to do. Many times that meant that they didn’t make as much money as someone in industry. I know you’re going to tell me that teachers get their summers off. That’s right but this is what I did with my summers, I went to grad school and worked for the Detroit Parks and Recreation department and then worked at a summer camp in our local area for about 10 dollars an hour. Oh yes I did take one summer off that was the year they replaced my knee. I had the operation in the summer so that I wouldn’t miss any school time.

      I think before you knock the public school system you should get to them. If you went to a public school and had a bad experience I’m sorry, but there are many others have had a good experience. I doubt that DeVos or Trump went to a public school so if that’s the case what the heck do they have against them. Maybe they want use them to help the owners make money? I really don’t know, but I hate what they are doing!

      This comment was directed to Ronna Berezin.

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