by Brian Washington
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When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sent a congratulatory tweet (see below) to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey after he expanded a voucher scheme within his state, the gesture represented a pat on the back from someone the governor respected and considered a mentor.
However, for education activists, DeVos’s tweet was like a bright warning flare against a dark midnight sky. A signal to let everyone know that, when it comes to public education, DeVos, considered a four-star general among her privatization peers, and Ducey, who is seeking re-election in November, share the same agenda: dismantling our public schools.
“I do not think Betsy DeVos and Doug Ducey fully understand that public schools and the teachers who work tirelessly in them each day share one goal, which is to provide opportunities for every student,” said Amy Ball, an Arizona public school teacher.
Both DeVos and Ducey enthusiastically support vouchers. Unlike public schools, vouchers, which use your tax dollars to pay tuition at private and/or religious schools, only serve a small fraction of a district’s student population, and they often end up helping families who can already afford to send their kids to private schools. More importantly, voucher schemes rob public schools, and the 91 percent of the nation’s students who attend them, of valuable resources.
Public schools that are properly resourced are the best chance for every child in AZ to have a bright future,” said Ball. “By properly funding public schools, students benefit with classes small enough for one-on-one attention from their teachers, updated and modern technology and books, and wraparound services such as nutrition and health services for every child who needs them.
However, instead of listening to the wisdom of trusted educators like Ball, during his first-term Ducey took a page out of the DeVos privatization handbook. In addition to vouchers, Ducey, who got a $3,000 campaign donation from the DeVos family to run for office, created an environment welcoming to privately managed charter schools that are unaccountable to the communities they serve. One such school unexpectedly shuttered last week due to financial troubles, but not before the school’s president and CEO received nearly $1 million of taxpayer money.
“Almost a million dollars of unaccounted funds,” said Josh Meibos, a physical education teacher in Phoenix. “And that school shut down with no advanced notice. So you had teachers out of jobs, students out of school, and the president (of the charter school) made out like a bandit.”
Meibos teaches in a neighborhood of poor, undocumented Latino immigrants. Now that President Trump has ended the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program, his students live in fear the federal government will tear their families apart. DACA allowed undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children to receive a work permit and a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation.
“These families are navigating a lot of issues,” said Meibos, who points out that despite the challenges, and like every other family, these families want the best for their children. “They are sending their students to local public schools with all intentions of having them receive an equitable public education.”
Meibos says schools like his are often the first ones to fall prey to the destructive privatization agenda embraced by Ducey and DeVos.
I have definitely seen it,” said Meibos. “I’ve seen schools like mine become the low-hanging fruit—the low-hanging fruit that consistently gets the funding and budgets cut.
Those who support public schools must back education champions during November’s midterm elections. It is the only way to stop misguided politicians like DeVos, the most unqualified education secretary in the nation’s history, and Ducey from destroying our public schools and the future of this nation.
“Their efforts are not only taking away funding from our public schools, but they’re also deteriorating this idea of justice for all, freedom and democracy, and how to build strong communities,” said Meibos. “It’s tearing our neighborhoods apart.”