Trump Ed-Sec Pick Betsy DeVos: Poised to Promote Vouchers above All Else
On November 23, 3016, President-elect Donald Trump announced his choice for US secretary of education: Michigan billionaire voucher advocate, Betsy DeVos.
Much has been written about Trump’s selection of DeVos, including information on her background– and the DeVos substantial funding of the Republican National Committee. As Jane Mayer of the November 23, 2016, New Yorker reports:
“My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee,” she wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. “I have decided to stop taking offense,” she wrote, “at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”
“People like us,” she added archly, “must surely be stopped.”
In the 2016 campaign, DeVos continued to spend heavily, but not in favor of Trump, who, she declared, “does not represent the Republican Party.” Evidently, she has changed her mind about that, and he has changed his about the merits of “the donor class.”
Emma Brown of the November 23, 2016, Washington Post has more on DeVos’ push for school vouchers, which is hand-in-glove with Trump’s declared-yet-sketchy intentions to use $20 billion to goad states into expanding school choice in a manner that could be the largest effort to nationalize portability of funding (given that such portability did not make it into the final version of Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA):
Betsy DeVos is hardly a household name, but the Michigan billionaire and conservative activist has quietly helped change the education landscape in many states, spending millions of dollars in a successful push to expand voucher programs that give families taxpayer dollars to pay for private and religious schools.
Now DeVos is poised to spread her preference for vouchers nationwide. President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday named her as his nominee for education secretary, a pick that suggests he aims to follow through with campaign promises to expand the movement toward “school choice” — including vouchers and charter schools — in an effort to break up a public education system that he has called “a government-run monopoly.” …
Trump has proposed redirecting $20 billion in federal spending toward a grant program for states to expand vouchers and charter schools. He has also said that he wants to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to persuade states to devote another $110 billion toward vouchers — enough, he has said, for every child living in poverty to have a scholarship of $12,000 toward the school of his or her choice.
Kate Zernike of the New York Times adds information about DeVos’ influence over choice in Michigan– privileged influence that defiantly buys what does not work and faces no direct consequence for the destructive purchase:
Michigan is one of the nation’s biggest school choice laboratories, especially with charter schools. The Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids school districts have among the nation’s 10 largest shares of students in charters, and the state sends $1 billion in education funding to charters annually. Of those schools, 80 percent are run by for-profit organizations, a far higher share than anywhere else in the nation.
The DeVoses, the most prominent name in state Republican politics, have been the biggest financial and political backers of the effort.
But if Michigan is a center of school choice, it is also among the worst places to argue that choice has made schools better. As the state embraced and then expanded charters over the past two decades, its rank has fallen on national reading and math tests. Most charter schools perform below the state average.
And a federal review in 2015 found “an unreasonably high” percentage of charter schools on the list of the state’s lowest-performing schools. The number of charter schools on that list had doubled since 2010, after the passage of a law a group financed by Ms. DeVos pushed to expand the schools. The group blocked a provision in that law that would have prevented failing schools from expanding or replicating.
So, now we have in Trump and DeVos a situation similar to that of Obama and Duncan in 2009: A plan to lure state governors and ed superintendents into accepting federal money in exchange for following some supposed top-down revolution.
For Obama and Duncan, it was Race to the Top, which pushed for common standards and dangled federal money to pay for the associated consortium assessments.
For Trump and DeVos, it will be vouchers/portability of funding.
In other words, vouchers will be the Trump-DeVos version of the Obama-Duncan Common Core and the accompanying PARCC/Smarter Balanced assessments.
ESSA has language in it to prevent the US secretary of education from prescribing certain educational standards and assessments in conjunction with Title I. Moreover, federal promotion of Common Core is specifically excluded by name in ESSA. However, ESSA has no specific language to prevent DeVos from pushing vouchers/portability of funding as the “preferred solution” to address turning around the bottom five percent of schools that all states will have.
Indeed, DeVos will have three ways in which to push school choice: 1) Outside of ESSA as part of Trump’s “Voucher to the Top” (for want of whatever name under which he will choose to package it); 2) As part of ESSA Title I and the manner in which she could pressure states regarding state plans for the “turning around” of the bottom five percent of schools in each state, and 3) as part of ESSA Title IV, Part C, “Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools.”
(Note that the federal government always refers to charter schools as “quality charter schools” in trade mark fashion. The term has nothing to do with actual quality, which seems to be right up DeVos’ alley given her history of actively promoting the expansion of charter schools deemed to be failing.)
One can reasonably expect that under Trump and DeVos, federal charter school funds will not receive proper oversight. Such will be in keeping with charter school funding under both G. W. Bush and Obama. (Ironically, when Trump introduced his choice block grant idea in September 2016, he did so in Ohio at a charter school that was failing by state standards.)
As for Trump’s stating his intention to fund his “Voucher to the Top” (my substitute name) using $20 billion: This amount appears to be linked to nothing definite. Some have speculated that Trump will raid ESSA Title I funding; however, it is not likely that Congress will just toss aside funding Title I and vote to instead send the money to fund a campaigned big idea that Trump could write on the surface of a cocktail napkin.
Title I funding is written into ESSA and is therefore part of the law.
The reality is that Trump’s “Voucher to the Top” financing would come from a source outside of ESSA. Moreover, Trump did not specify that the entire $20 billion would happen in a single year.
Whether Congress allots $20 billion to Trump’s signature voucher push remains to be seen– as does the manner in which donor class ed sec DeVos will likely promote Vouchers Above All Else.