President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, is an ardent school choice advocate. If she is confirmed to the post of Education Secretary by the Senate, you can trust that part of her agenda will be to promote “education reform” (think privatization) by using public funds to pay for private school tuition, perhaps through vouchers or education savings accounts.
DeVos has no significant public education credentials. She hasn’t attended public schools, hasn’t worked as a public school educator, and didn’t send her children to public schools. If confirmed, she’ll be in charge of our nation’s public schools (where 90 percent of all kids go).
According to the Washington Post, DeVos has been instrumental in the growth of Michigan’s charter school network. She is the darling of those who lobby for school choice, so there’s reason for concern that her nomination would put wind in the sails of the school choice movement here in Texas.
Texas school choice advocates vow to put a voucher bill forward this legislative session. That is not unusual—it happens every biennium. But this year, school choice advocates including Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick have been out early, promoting education savings accounts (another name for vouchers) and framing the argument as a civil rights issue (others have called Patrick out for this proclamation).
This discussion of school choice comes on the heels of the Texas Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the state’s funding system for public education as “undeniably imperfect” yet satisfying “minimal constitutional requirements.”
It’s important to follow the money in Texas public education because it says a lot about priorities. Per-pupil spending in Texas is now below 2008 levels (when enrollment growth is factored in). Texas schools are already doing more with less. Siphoning money from already stretched public school budgets to pay for vouchers is unlikely to help impoverished families. What more likely happens is that families of means get help paying for private school tuition.
Another concern about the DeVos nomination centers on accountability. The charter school network she championed in Michigan is anything but successful. In fact, Michigan’s is home to a plethora of low-performing charters, and thanks to the DeVos’ lobbying efforts, there is little that can be done to shut down or improve failing charters.
At her Senate confirmation hearing, she would not say that charter and private schools that receive public funds should be held to the same accountability standards as public schools. Think for a moment how crazy that is: Her life’s work is school privatization, but she won’t agree that all schools, public and private, should be held to the same standard.
Lack of accountability is one of the major arguments against school choice in Texas. Putting someone who won’t stand for accountability in a position of national leadership could weaken that argument.