Today, president-elect Donald Trump tapped Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education in his administration.
DeVos, though, has all the wrong credentials to serve as Education Secretary. An Education Secretary should be devoted to promoting and improving public education, but she has devoted her career to dismantling it. Indeed, she’s the leader of the crusade to create private school vouchers, heading up American Federation for Children and giving huge sums of money to enact voucher programs across the country.
Knowing the troubling stance Trump has taken on education, this is no real surprise. Trump has said he wants to create an expensive, nationwide school voucher program at a staggering price tag of $20 billion. His plan would divert that money from existing federal programs for new “choice” block grants to states, which will fund private, charter, and home schools. That means there will be $20 billion taken away from existing programs that often serve our neighborhood public schools. DeVos, no doubt, will lead the charge.
But private school vouchers are terrible education policy. Voucher programs have proven ineffective, lack accountability to taxpayers, and deprive students of rights provided to public school students. They also divert desperately needed resources away from public schools, which serve all children, to fund the education of a few, select voucher students.
And, of course, vouchers, which primarily fund religious schools, also violate the fundamental guarantee of religious freedom. First, taxpayers should never have to fund religious education. Second, vouchers threaten the autonomy of religious schools by opening them up to government audits, control and interference.
We should be focusing on promoting public schools, as they are for everyone.
Trump has made the dubious claim that vouchers promote civil rights, but vouchers actually undermine them. Private schools don’t provide the same fundamental civil rights protections – including those found in our laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender and gender identity, national origin and disability – that our public schools do.
A critical function of the U.S. Department of Education is to ensure that all our children have real, meaningful educational opportunities by enforcing critical federal civil rights laws. Over the past eight years, the Department has made great strides in protecting the nation’s schoolchildren against bullying and harassment based on race, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.
This important work is at risk. For example, DeVos and her family have given millions of dollars to organizations opposed to LGBTQ equality.
Americans United has fought voucher schemes for years – in Congress, in legislatures, and in court. They violate our nation’s fundamental guarantee of religious freedom and stand in the way of equality. Looks like we’ll have to redouble our efforts under a DeVos-led Department of Education.