Beware of Trump and DeVos’ grand plan to privatize public education
© Greg Nash

To Betsy DeVos, school choice is not simply the inherent right that every parent has to choose their child’s educational setting, it is all about requiring taxpayers to pick up the tab for that parent’s private individual choice, regardless of whether the parent chooses a public school, a charter school, a nonprofit private school, a religious school or even a fly-by-night online virtual school.

Historically, the United States has devoted itself to a comprehensive system of public schools, locally controlled and funded by public resources. Parents who didn’t want their children to attend the public schools, could, of course, pay for them to go to a private school.

But DeVos and her associates in the corporate education reform movement have been working hard to undermine that historic concept and replace it with one in which public funds are used  to subsidize whatever “choice” a parent makes for their child.

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The most common form of public subsidy for “school choice” has been the rapid rise of the charter school industry. Today there are approximately 3 million students attending about 6,900 charter schools in the United States. Supporters of these publicly funded but privately owned and operated entities claim that their primary purpose is to provide parents with choices.

 

However, advocates for privatizing public education support a far broader array of school choice options, including funneling public money directly to private schools. 

And in Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAssange meets U.S. congressman, vows to prove Russia did not leak him documents A history lesson on the Confederacy for President Trump GOP senator: Trump hasn't 'changed much' since campaign MORE, DeVos and her allies have found someone who will champion the cause of shifting massive public resources away from the nation’s public schools to subsidize the country’s private and parochial schools.

During his presidential campaign Donald Trump proposed using $20 billion in federal money to allow parents to send their children to charter, private, or religious schools.

While Betsy DeVos’ confirmation process was much more controversial than Trump could have expected, his policy goals undoubtedly remain intact. In the coming weeks and months we’re likely see Trump’s new Secretary of Education propose a variety of programs and mechanisms to promote their agenda, including efforts to persuade states to dramatically expand support for charter schools and school voucher efforts.

As Fox Business News reported, DeVos told a group in 2015, “Let the education dollars follow each child, instead of forcing the child to follow the dollars. This is pretty straightforward. And it’s how you go from a closed system to an open system that encourages innovation. People deserve choices and options,”

Although critics point out, the nation’s public schools are already underfunded and vouchers and other privatization programs further undermine the ability of public schools to provide students with the comprehensive educational opportunities they need and deserve, the Trump administration is likely to “go all in” with the effort to redirect public resources to privately owned and operated school settings.

These privatization efforts will probably include education savings accounts and school vouchers, either paid for directly with tax dollars or funded through a system of tax credits.

Under an Education Savings Account program, parents who withdraw their children from public school are given stipends that are deposited into government-authorized savings accounts.

Parents can then use those funds to pay for private school tuition and fees Alternatively, parents are given a School Voucher that they can then use to direct public funds to a selected private or parochial school. In this case, the funds meant for paying for the child’s public school education follows that child to the private school.

According to the pro-privatization advocacy group, Ed Choice, about 400,000 children in 29 states attend schools with the help of vouchers.

In many of the existing situations, school vouchers are limited to families with lower incomes and schools that accept vouchers must meet a series of mandatory academic standards.

To fund their voucher system, Trump and DeVos may look to have the program funded out of federal dollars or they may seek to utilize tax-credit to fund the vouchers. Tax-credit vouchers, also called, scholarships, allow taxpayers, often businesses, to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships.

While a school voucher proposal is likely, Critics say that DeVos’ voucher plan would exacerbate educational inequality, that “voucher programs do not work to improve student achievement”, and “voucher programs and charter school expansion drain both money and social capital from the traditional public schools, creating even more of an imbalanced, two-tiered system.”

The problem is that undermining the nation’s public education system is exactly what Trump and DeVos are trying to do.

Pelto is a former state representative in Connecticut, and an education advocate. He is the founder and coordinator of the Education Bloggers Network, a confederation of more than 250 pro-public education bloggers from around the country. He was 2014 candidate for governor in Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter @jonathanpelto


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