One of the last, quiet acts of the Obama Administration was to publish an evaluation of President Obama’s signature effort to overhaul the nation’s worst schools. Despite billions of dollars in federal assistance, the School Improvement Grants program yielded no meaningful improvement – a costly failure for the millions of kids who have no practical option other than those same, failing schools. Despite the best efforts and intentions of government officials, billions in tax dollars have been wasted and our kids are no better off.
It’s time for a new approach — one that encourages schools to improve while at the same time giving families options if they don’t. By expanding school choice programs, states can do precisely that. This past week — as families, teachers, and education advocates around the nation observed National School Choice Week — leaders in Washington have an opportunity to give them the ability to do so.
That’s because Betsy DeVos — a longtime advocate of school choice reforms — faces a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate to become the next secretary of Education.
Mrs. DeVos is a longtime supporter of efforts to reform and improve education in the U.S. Over the years she has generously donated to hospitals, health research, the arts, and to schools. If confirmed, she has vowed to work with governors and state legislatures as they consider reforms to expand the options available to families seeking a better education for their kids.
School choice is also an issue with strong bipartisan support. Even Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Warren11 senators urge House to pass .5T package before infrastructure bill Senate Democrats seeking information from SPACs, questioning 'misaligned incentives' UN secretary-general blasts space tourism MORE — who has been critical of DeVos — has endorsed school choice and touted its benefits. In her book, “The Two-Income Trap,” Warren attacked the “iron clad relationship” between where you live and the quality of the schools you attend. She instead endorsed a system of vouchers that paid the entire cost of educating a child.
If Secretary DeVos is confirmed, Senator Warren may be able to work with her on a bipartisan plan that allows states to do just that. That would represent a major step forward for parents, teachers, and above all students. Unlike the failed ‘School Improvement Grants’ program, it would empower parents and educators to adopt a new approach to school reform — one that does not cost billions in additional taxpayer dollars, and which has demonstrated success in the past.
The Latino community — with much of its youth trapped in failing schools — has a big stake in the school choice debate. According to researchers at Stanford University, Hispanic students in poverty in particular have higher learning gains at a charter school versus a traditional public school — equal to an additional 14 days of reading and 22 days of math instruction for Latino students in poverty in charter schools. Yet too many families today find themselves with no realistic alternatives to the poor schools to which they are assigned by an unresponsive educational bureaucracy.
As we celebrated National School Choice Week this past week, it’s worth noting that 2017 may be a year of major advances for families and students across the nation. More and more states are seeing the benefits of allowing families and students to attend the schools that best suit their needs. Legislators around the country — including many states with growing Hispanic populations — are preparing to debate or implement policies to create these new educational options. Those include Florida, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada.
This is an exciting time for those who dream of a stronger Hispanic community thanks to better education. After years of talk about reform, families across the country may finally have the chance to take charge and build a better future for their children. Confirming Betsy DeVos would come at an important time for those who wish to translate these dreams into reality.
Daniel Garza is the president of The LIBRE Initiative. He served as Deputy Director of External and Intergovernmental Affairs in the Office of the Secretary at The Department of Interior, and was appointed in 2004 to Associate Director of the Office of Public Liaison in the White House. He serves on the Board of The Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, an academic non-partisan review that publishes works on politics and policy.
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