Betsy DeVos’ 6-month report card: More undoing than doing

Source: Associated Press, August 10, 2017
 
Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, the news cycle has been dominated by stories of White House controversy: a travel ban, North Korea, health care and more.  Meanwhile, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been busy fulfilling her conservative agenda that seeks to broaden school choice and market-based schooling in pre-K through higher education.  As a researcher of education policy and politics, I’ve been following Secretary DeVos’ first six months in office. Here’s a quick look at what’s she’s done – and what’s been left in limbo. …

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School’s out: Teachers union chief Randi Weingarten says Trump leads “most anti-public-education” administration ever
Source: Chauncey Devega, Salon, August 7, 2017
 
How can public education be saved in America? What role does Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos play in the crisis facing America’s public schools? Why do so many Americans believe in the false promises and lies of school privatization and other neoliberal so-called reforms? How are strong American public schools essential for a strong democracy and robust economy?  In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. A longer version can be heard on my podcast, available on Salon’s Featured Audio page. …

Betsy DeVos Is Making “School Choice” Toxic for Democrats
Source: Graham Vyse, New Republic, July 26, 2017
 
Trump and DeVos are among the many opponents of public education who, for more than a decade now, have cast school privatization as a civil rights mission, arguing that vouchers and charters extend opportunity to communities of color. Even many Democrats, while maintaining that education is a public good, have bought into this narrative. But last year, the NAACP and the Movement for Black Lives called for a moratorium on charters, with the former saying the schools exacerbate segregation and destabilize traditional public schools (not least by diverting funds away from them). These civil rights groups, the Times reported, “portray charters as the pet project of foundations financed by white billionaires, and argue that the closing of traditional schools as students migrate to charters has disproportionately disrupted black communities.” …


School Choice—Past And Present
Source: Randi Weingarten, President of AFT, Huffington Post, July 22, 2017
 
At the exact time I was giving a speech last week to 1,400 educators about ensuring that all children have access to a powerful, purposeful public education, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was addressing the American Legislative Exchange Council—a group of corporate lobbyists and conservative legislators who are working to privatize and defund public education, and cloaking their efforts as school “choice.”  It’s no surprise; no matter the question, for DeVos, the answer is choice. When schools struggle, the “solution” privatization advocates invariably propose is “choice,” with the coda that poor families should have the same educational choices as more affluent families. But that innocuous word belies the record—both the academic results of private school choice and the way it was used historically to continue school segregation after the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. …

Teachers union leader: We won’t work with Trump and DeVos because ‘I do not trust their motives’
Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, July 3, 2017
 
The president of the country’s largest labor union, Lily Eskelsen García of the National Education Association, told delegates at her organization’s annual gathering that they would not work with the Trump administration because the president and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos could not be trusted to do what is in the best interests of children.  Eskelsen García just addressed the 96th NEA Representative Assembly meeting in Boston, accusing President Trump of residing “at the dangerous intersection of arrogance and ignorance” and labeled DeVos as “the queen of for-profit privatization of public education.”

Interviews for Resistance: On the Commodification of Education
Source: Sarah Jaffe, In These Times, May 18, 2017
 
What has been happening in education over the last 20-30 years—people talk a lot about the prison-industrial complex and about the pharmaceutical-industrial complex, but folks don’t talk enough about the educational-industrial complex. Education is where all these things come together and that is what we have been having for the last 20-something years is an educational-industrial complex where you have all these businesses come in trying to provide a service and really privatize education, which is our last public good. …

This is the new Betsy DeVos speech everyone should read
Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, May 16, 2017
 
The Michigan billionaire appeared at the 2017 annual technology and innovation conference in Salt Lake City sponsored by Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley, delivering a speech and answering questions from Jeanne Allen of the nonprofit Center for Education Reform, who, as Liz Willen, editor of the Hechinger Report, said in this column, “threw one softball after another, such as: “What would you say to people about technology?” … What she talked mostly about, though, is what she always talks about — school choice — and she renewed previous attacks she has made on the value of government and public schools. If anybody thought that having the responsibility of running the entire Education Department would broaden her scope, this speech should disabuse them of that.

The Privatization Prophets
Source: Jennifer Berkshire, Jacobin, May 2017

… But if the nation’s schools are the equivalent of a kitchen-wall rotary phone or the cab that never comes, DeVos was eager to let the audience know that a quick fix is at hand: school choice. … Beneath the folksy tech talk, though, lurks a radical vision, one that is taking root in state after state. The ultimate aim of the project of which DeVos is now the most visible face is to remove education from the public system. Those “buildings” of which she speaks so disdainfully, the disparaging “status quo” never far behind, represent the entire architecture of public education, and more importantly, its democratic control. Diminishing this is key to reaching the promised land of privatization. … Unfettering the markets is only part of the vision. Control over the process of socializing children, the near-monopoly domain of a system that is both secular and, as the libertarian right deridingly characterizes it, collectivist, is another prize. And if there is some money to be made along the way, well, there’s nothing wrong with that. DeVos’s efforts to take public education private are uniting seekers of profits and prophets. Let’s take a look at some of the key battles over those efforts. …

Tax credits, school choice and ‘neovouchers’: What you need to know
Source: Kevin Welner, The Conversation, April 14, 2017

As Republican lawmakers craft a tax reform bill, there’s speculation on the import taxes, value-added taxes and tax cuts it may usher in. Meanwhile, it’s likely that the bill will also include a major education policy initiative from the Trump administration: a tax credit designed to fund private school vouchers. A decade ago I started researching this new kind of voucher – funded through a somewhat convoluted tax credit mechanism – that appears to have particular appeal to President Trump and other Republicans. These new vouchers (or “neovouchers”) are similar to conventional vouchers in many ways, but there are some important differences. It’s those differences that neovoucher advocates most care about and that everyone should understand. …

DeVos praises this voucher-like program. Here’s what it means for school reform.
Source: Emma Brown, Washington Post, April 9, 2017

Florida has channeled billions of taxpayer dollars into scholarships for poor children to attend private schools over the past 15 years, using tax credits to build a laboratory for school choice that the Trump administration holds up as a model for the nation. The voucherlike program, the largest of its kind in the country, helps pay tuition for nearly 100,000 students from low-income families. But there is scant evidence that these students fare better academically than their peers in public schools. And there is a perennial debate about whether the state should support private schools that are mostly religious, do not require teachers to hold credentials and are not required to meet minimal performance standards. Florida private schools must administer one of several standardized tests to scholarship recipients, but there are no consequences for consistently poor results. …

… In the past quarter-century, Republican and Democratic administrations focused on holding schools and educators accountable for student performance.  Now, President Trump and DeVos seem concerned less with measuring whether schools help students learn and more with whether parents have an opportunity to pick a school for their children. They have pledged billions of dollars to that end. And they have visited private schools in Florida to underline their support for funding private-school tuition through tax credits. …

Betsy DeVos Calls for More School Choice, Saying Money Isn’t the Answer
Source: Erica L. Green, New York Times, March 29, 2017

Betsy DeVos, in her first extended policy address as education secretary, argued on Wednesday for an expansion of school choice programs, pointing to lagging test scores and a program championed by the Obama administration that funneled billions into low-performing schools but failed to produce better academic outcomes.  Speaking at the Brookings Institution, which released a ranking of choice options in the country’s 100 largest school districts, Ms. DeVos made her case for choice policies that she said focused on the “individual child.” And she called for the rejection of an “us versus them mentality” when it comes to investing in programs, like charter schools and school vouchers, to which President Trump has proposed giving part of a $1.4 billion funding increase in the fiscal year that begins in October. …

Can DeVos sell school choice to America?
Source: Kimberly Hefling and Benjamin Wermund, Politico, March 17, 2017

… Donald Trump’s budget blueprint seeks to redirect tens of millions from student financial aid and teacher training, among other programs, to charter schools and private school tuition vouchers, including a $1 billion boost in Title 1 funds that for the first time would follow students to the public schools of their choice.  While only a down payment on Trump’s campaign promise to plow $20 billion into school choice, the budget plan represents a radical departure for education policy. DeVos’ reputation will hinge on her ability to convince not just lawmakers but the American public that large pots of taxpayer money should go to educational options besides traditional public schools, including helping working class families with private school tuition. … The reality is that DeVos — a billionaire who long fought for school choice causes before taking office — may have a hard time persuading even some members of her own party, who have previously rejected many of these ideas and who are sure to balk at cuts to other programs viewed as essential by educators and parents in their districts.

… DeVos is expected to go back to Capitol Hill to answer questions about the administration’s budget proposals from the House Appropriations Committee — her first public appearance since the contentious confirmation process that transformed her into a punching bag for the left. Making her task more difficult, DeVos is coming out of a rocky first month in which a series of unforced errors did little to allay critics’ concerns about her commitment to public schools, her expertise or for that matter, her savvy. Now, she’ll also have to justify the administration’s 13-percent hit overall to the Education Department — including to many of its popular programs designed to boost public schools in areas such as after-school programming and teacher training. Signaling the fight ahead, a broad swath of the education world blasted Trump’s budget proposal on Thursday. … A proposed 50 percent boost in charter school funding could find more of a receptive audience among both Republicans and Democrats, since charter schools have long had more bipartisan support than programs that use public funds to cover private school tuition. Other parts of Trump’s proposal that would allow working class families to use public funds for private school tuition might to a tougher sell. … The issue of making Title I dollars portable has also been a hot-button issue, with some Republicans opposing the idea during the fight over overhauling the No Child Left Behind law. … Despite those efforts, there are few signs that DeVos has succeeded in mending fences with many of her opponents. …

Trump Budget Would Make Massive Cuts to Ed. Dept., But Boost School Choice
Source: Alyson Klein, Education Week, March 16, 2017

President Donald Trump’s first budget seeks to slash the Education Department’s roughly $68 billion budget by $9 billion, or 13 percent in the coming fiscal year, whacking popular programs that help districts offer after-school programs, and hire and train teachers. At the same time, it seeks a historic $1.4 billion federal investment in school choice, including new money for private school vouchers and charter schools, as well as directing $1 billion to follow students to the school of their choice. … The charter school grant program, currently funded at $333 million, would get a sizeable increase of $168 million. The program helps states and charter organization start up, replicate, and expand schools, with a special focus on helping Charter Management Organizations with a track record of success open new campuses. Trump is also proposing a new $250 million private school choice initiative that could provide vouchers for use at private schools, including religious schools. As part of the school choice push, the budget would include a $1 billion increase for Title I grants for disadvantaged students, currently funded at nearly $15 billion. But that money would come up with a twist: States and districts would be encouraged to use the funds for a system of “student-based budgeting and open enrollment that enables Federal, State, and Local funding to follow the student to the public school of his or her choice.” …

Trump and DeVos Push ALEC Privatization Scheme as Studies Document Voucher Failures
Source: Dustin Beilke, Truthout, March 7, 2017

Never one to be persuaded by scientific evidence, President Donald Trump is in Florida Friday pushing one of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)’s school privatization schemes even as a fresh batch of evidence emerges showing that private and religious school vouchers harm the students who use them along with the public schools robbed of taxpayer funds in too many states. Politico reports that the Trump administration is considering a plan to install a $20 billion federal tax credit scholarship program that would have the federal government reimburse wealthy individuals and corporations dollar-for-dollar for money they “donate” to students to attend participating private schools instead of public schools. The National Coalition for Public Education says these types of tuition tax credit programs are vouchers by another name, listing them as one of the four types of voucher programs. … Unlike the most commonly understood voucher programs, where the state directly reimburses a private or religious school for tuition costs, tuition tax credit proposals offer tax credits to individuals and corporations who donate to a nonprofit “school tuition organization.” The nonprofit then pays for a student’s tuition, and the government repays the donors by either decreasing the amount of tax they owe by the amount of their donations, or by increasing their tax refunds.

… The proposal tracks ALEC’s cookie-cutter “Great Schools Tax Credit Act””Great Schools Tax Credit Act” which has been adopted in some form in 17 states. As the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) detailed in a 2016 report, this bill was one of the most popular of the 172 ALEC model education bills introduced in states.  Bills to introduce or expand this tax credit were introduced in 13 states in 2015 — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, South Dakota, and Texas. The DeVos group, Alliance for School Choice, has long funded ALEC’s Education Task Force and has been a driving force in the ALEC school privatization agenda, sponsoring bills, conducting workshops and pushing bills in the states. … Meanwhile a new study by the Economic Policy Institute and three comprehensive state studies featured in a February 2017 New York Times article article paint a grim picture for students whose parents are seduced by the marketing campaigns peddling vouchers as a means to a good education. In the words of New York Times writer Kevin Carey, “The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say.” …

Trump considers tax credit to channel public money to private schools
Source: Caitlin Emma, Politico, February 21, 2017

The Trump administration is considering a first-of-its-kind federal tax credit scholarship program that would channel billions of dollars to families from working-class households to enable their children to attend private schools, including religious schools.  The federal tax credit proposal is one of several ideas under review by the White House to fulfill Donald Trump’s campaign promise to promote the expansion of charter schools and vouchers that would allow families of low income to use public money for private school tuition, sources tell POLITICO. During a recent meeting with parents and teachers at the White House, Trump said he wants “every single disadvantaged child in America, no matter what their background or where they live, to have a choice about where they go to school.” But the federal tax credit proposal already has critics on the left and right. Public school advocates say such a tax credit is a voucher program in disguise and would divert tax dollars from struggling public schools. … Critics on the right, meanwhile, worry such a plan would increase the federal role in education and pressure states to standardize state tax credit programs, many of which now allow nonprofit groups to prioritize a particular type of school, such as those of particular religious denominations, for instance. A federal tax credit scholarship program could be part of a larger tax reform bill and pass through the budget reconciliation process with only 51 votes in the Senate. Delays in repealing Obamacare, however, are complicating Republican plans to push tax reform through Congress.

…. Details of how the Trump administration might structure the plan remain unknown. But sources close to the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly say the program might be capped at a level as high as $20 billion, and resemble legislation first introduced by Republicans Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Todd Rokita of Indiana in 2013, called the Educational Opportunities Act. That bill, which has never passed either chamber, would have created a federal tax credit of up to $4,500 for individuals and up to $100,000 for corporations that make donations to nonprofit “scholarship-granting organizations,” or SGOs. Those organizations would award the funds to low-income students, who could use the money to attend private schools, including those run by religious groups. … Seventeen states have similar tax credit scholarship programs and a few others, like Kentucky and Texas, are considering bills this year. It’s unclear whether a federal program would limit tax credits to residents and donors in states that already have their own tax credit programs with an infrastructure to support those. If that’s the case, it could incentivize states without such programs to create them.DeVos has pointed to Florida’s tax credit scholarship program as one of her biggest successes. … Florida’s program, however, has been beset by legal challenges. And groups representing the nation’s traditional public schools say they would fight any proposals to introduce such plans on the federal level. The National Coalition for Public Education argues that private schools accepting tuition funded through tax credits aren’t held accountable like public schools, the advocacy group notes. And states have had to take action to make up for a decline in revenue. …

Trump’s school choice expansion plan may face uphill battle
Source: Christine Armario & Jennifer Kerr, Associated Press, November 16, 2016

School voucher programs in the nation’s capital and Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana could serve as a blueprint for a Trump administration plan to use public money to enable disadvantaged students to attend the public or private school of their choice. President-elect Donald Trump made clear that school choice would be an education priority. Speaking at a Cleveland charter school in September, he vowed to funnel $20 billion in existing federal dollars into scholarships for low-income students. That’s an idea that would require approval from Congress, which last year passed a bipartisan overhaul of No Child Left Behind and is unlikely to alter it in the near future. Still, there are smaller-scale ways Trump could reshape public education. …

Trump’s Plan to Destroy Public Education
Source: Alan Singer, Huffington Post, September 12, 2016

Trump calls his school plan choice, as if ordinary Americans will ever be able to choose the kind of schools he chose for his kids. He demands that Americans trust him and boasts they should give him a chance because he will be a great president. The thing is, we already know Trump’s school plan is a recipe for disaster. … Donald Trump actually presented his education plan to the public in a speech at the Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy, a charter school that received grades of “D” and “F” from Ohio’s school ratings agency in math, reading, and closing achievement gaps. But this school is not unique. Studies by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that students in Ohio charter schools perform worse in reading and mathematics than comparable students in traditional schools, while students in California charters had lower scores in math than their public school peers. A study by the University of Minnesota Law School determined that “ charter schools, which on average score lower that the Chicago public schools, have not improved the Chicago school system, but perhaps made it even weaker.” … At the start of the 2000-decade, Edison Schools partnered with 130 schools and managed 80. By the end of 2015 it only managed five. In 2000 the for-profit Advantage Schools chain operated schools that enrolled over 10,000 children. Today Advantage Schools operates eight charter schools in seven states. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans hired for-profit companies to manage new charter schools. By 2013, every one of those companies had walked out on the city and is children. … “School Choice” is frequently an excuse to maintain racial and economic segregation, especially in the United States South where segregation academies have proliferated since federal courts ruled de jure segregation illegal in the 1950s and 1960s. A good example is Selma, Alabama. Selma’s two high schools, Southside and Selma City, have student populations that are virtually 100% African American. White families in Selma, and some of the more affluent Black families, send their children to the Meadowview Christian School where the student population is over 90% White. …