President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Betsy DeVos to head the U.S. Department of Education. As AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn put it, this appointment “is an insult to public education.”
DeVos, an activist in Michigan Republican politics, has no background working in public education. In fact, it’s likely she doesn’t even support that concept. DeVos has spent most of her professional career running an organization that seeks to create voucher plans. Her focus has always been on private schools, not public ones.
This appointment is indicative of Trump’s approach. He names people to run federal agencies who are either woefully underqualified or hostile to the agency’s core mission. It may please his rabid base, but in this case, it could be disastrous for public education.
Most children in America – 90 percent – attend public schools. Young people and their families rely on the public system. Unlike private institutions, public schools welcome children of all religions, races and socio-economic backgrounds. No public school can deny a child admission for being of the “wrong” religion, or for failing to meet theological modes of behavior.
Private religious schools can, and do, impose religious qualifications on students and staff. Many of them elevate imparting dogma over secular education, much to the detriment of their pupils. (Consider the fundamentalist Christian academies that in this day and age still refuse to teach evolution.)
Religious groups have the right to run schools, but they should have no right to tap the public purse to spread their theology. In an age of tight budgets, our focus must always be on public schools.
The grandiose claims of voucher boosters have not come to pass. Studies of existing plans show no boost in student performance. Yet in some states – Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin come to mind – private institutions continue to siphon away money that by all rights belongs to public schools.
Voucher experiments in the states have failed miserably. Driven by a data-proof form of right-wing ideology, DeVos will likely want to extend that record of failure nationwide through Trump’s reckless call for a $20-billion voucher plan.
A scheme like that could prove a crippling blow to public education in America. It must not be allowed to come to pass.