Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified before a congressional committee to defend the Donald J. Trump administration’s education budget.
Not surprisingly, when it came to the administration’s plans to funnel $250 million in taxpayer money to private schools through vouchers, her efforts fell flat. We have a responsibility to provide great public schools to every kid in America. Instead of strongly investing in public schools where 90 percent of kids go, Trump’s budget cuts billions of dollars from key programs and would divert already scarce funding to private schools.
Members of Congress pressed DeVos on the fact that these private schools, even though they get taxpayer funds through vouchers, discriminate against students and are unaccountable to the public. Although she tried to evade their questions, it was clear that she has no interest in ensuring meaningful oversight of schools or barring discrimination in a federal voucher program.
U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) questioned DeVos about whether a federal voucher program would send taxpayer money to schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students. It’s never OK for public dollars to fund discrimination, but that’s not what DeVos thinks. Clark asked quite directly, “There is no situation of discrimination or exclusion that if a state approved it for its voucher program that you would step in and say that’s not how we are going to use our federal dollars?” DeVos dodged the question again and again because she didn’t want to admit that yes, students would face discrimination in her federal voucher program.
U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and several of her colleagues grilled DeVos on whether she believed students with disabilities should retain all of the rights provided to them in federal law if they attend private voucher schools. DeVos repeatedly responded that “each state has to deal with this… in their own way.” Basically, she could not defend the fact that private school vouchers strip students with disabilities of their rights.
Nor was DeVos willing to admit that vouchers send public funds to private schools that are not accountable like public schools.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) passionately challenged DeVos on this, discussing the troubled Milwaukee school voucher program. He gave an example of a private voucher school that failed to teach students how to read.
Pocan asked DeVos, “Will you have accountability standards?” in a federal voucher program to stop problems like this. DeVos again did not answer directly. When pushed, it was clear that taxpayers would foot the bill for private schools that aren’t accountable to the public.
The fact remains that vouchers weaken public schools. They take scarce funding away from public schools and give it to private schools. But taxpayers can’t afford to fund two different education systems -- one public and one religious.
You can fight back against the Trump-DeVos plan – remind members of Congress that public money should fund public schools.