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DeVos vouchers

Here’s what you need to know about Betsy DeVos, likely Education Secretary


President-elect Donald Trump's nomination for Education Secretary has sparked enthusiasm from school choice groups, but outrage from those who view public schools as a U.S. institution.

With his nomination of billionaire Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education, President-elect Donald Trump seems to be making good on his campaign promise to promote school choice.

Trump has proposed a $20 million fund to support school choice for students, namely through charters and vouchers. DeVos, who has no professional experience working in schools, is a vocal proponent of school choice and vouchers. Currently, she chairs the American Federation for Children, which promotes school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs.

[Read the higher education version of this story here.]

A Polarizing Issue; A Potentially Polarizing Nomination

Vouchers are a polarizing issue for many in the education community, with opponents saying they funnel valuable public school dollars to private institutions that aren’t always accountable. Several state courts have heard cases involving students using vouchers to attend private religious schools.

Voucher supporters say they enable students to break free from geographical or financial constraints and pursue a quality education at the institution of their choice.

DeVos has ties to the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a pro-Common Core organization, but said on her website that she is not a fan of the Common Core because “along the way, it got turned into a federalized boondoggle.” Trump said he wanted to abolish the standards, but that could prove difficult. Because they are implemented at the state level, a president likely cannot abolish the standards, though lawmakers in Republican-controlled Common Core states might feel more empowered to challenge the standards or call for Trump to offer incentives for states to move away from them.

Earlier this year, DeVos was vocal about her belief that Trump did not represent the Republican party, as well as her hope that voters would move away from supporting him.

Yet, in a statement, Trump said DeVos is “a brilliant and passionate education advocate. Under her leadership, we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”

(Next page: Education stakeholders react to the nomination–find out what they said)

Educator and stakeholder reaction was swift. Below are 5 reactions to the DeVos nomination [Give us your reactions in the comment section below!].

1. DeVos “has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers — which take away funding and local control from our public schools — to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense. These schemes do nothing to help our most-vulnerable students while they ignore or exacerbate glaring opportunity gaps. She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education. By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities,” said Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association.

2. The Wall Street Journal said DeVos is “well positioned” to reform the Education Department and promote school choice, noting her experience with “hand-to-hand political combat in state legislative races against the teachers unions.”

3. Jim DeMint, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said in a statement that DeVos is “a staunch supporter of more education choices for students and parents, and the school choice movement will have a champion in the Education Department…The next Secretary should re-evaluate existing federal education programs, work to downsize the agency, promote where appropriate efforts for more choice, and give states more flexibility with existing federal funds to better serve students.”

4. The New York Times said it is uncertain how students will fare. The Times called her nomination a probable “loss for students,” noting that, while the state of Detroit’s school system is not entirely her fault, she is usually viewed as the major impetus behind the state’s school restructuring. In Detroit, the current lack of oversight means failing charter schools are still able to enroll students.

5. “In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT. “DeVos has no meaningful experience in the classroom or in our schools. The sum total of her involvement has been spending her family’s wealth in an effort to dismantle public education in Michigan. Every American should be concerned that she would impose her reckless and extreme ideology on the nation.”

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Laura Ascione

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