Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has spent a lifetime fighting to siphon public money into private schools. Described as “the four-star general of the pro-voucher movement.”  Betsy DeVos and her husband Dick DeVos, who inherited his father’s Amway fortune, have poured millions of dollars into lobbying for school voucher programs across the country. 

Since 2009, Betsy DeVos has been the chair of the American Federation for Children (AFC), the nation’s leading school choice advocacy group, as well as the group’s electoral arm, which supports candidates who endorse school vouchers and charter schools.

If you want to see how truly dishonest American Federation for Children is about its goals, take a look at the group’s "2012 Election Impact Report," revealed in a column by Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The smiling faces of African American and Latino children beam from the pages of the report. Billing itself as "the nation's voice for educational choice," the American Federation for Children pushes forward students of color as the beneficiaries of its lobbying work, but the politicians they support are not exactly heroes of the civil-rights movement. You'd never guess it from all those smiling black and brown faces that the biggest recipients of AFC funds are Republican state legislators who are busy enacting plans to slash funding for public schools and, at the same time, redirect tax dollars to private-school families—many of whom have kids who've never attended public school.

When former governor of Wisconsin Tommy Thompson started the nation's first private-school voucher program in Milwaukee in 1990 it was, from the beginning, a racially divisive issue. Vouchers pitted African American parents who wanted to get their kids out of crumbling schools against the teachers unions, civil libertarians, and public-school advocates who objected to sending tax money to private schools, including religious schools. Twenty-five years later, vouchers have not proven to be a ticket out for poor kids of color.

Voucher students in Milwaukee have lower test scores in reading and math than their public-school peers. The ACLU is still concerned that tax dollars are going to teach voucher students that creationism trumps evolution in some voucher-funded religious schools. Fly-by-night voucher schools have popped up in corner stores and rundown strip malls to take advantage of school-voucher money in Wisconsin. 

This educational dystopia is the plan Betsy DeVos would like to take nationwide.

Worst of all is the whole budget picture: public schools taking a massive hit, even as the state pours tax dollars into private schools

When Walker lifted the income cap on vouchers and expanded the program it became clear that this is not a program designed to help disadvantaged, minority kids. When the governor expanded Milwaukee's voucher program to the city of Racine, half of all new voucher recipients were students who had never attended public school.

Lutheran and Catholic schools around the state favor vouchers. Their enrollment jumped when Walker eliminated enrollment limits and raised the income cap for vouchers to $67,000 a year (and once a family qualifies for a voucher, no matter how much money the parents make, the kids remain voucher-eligible). Well-to-do religious-school parents in Wisconsin received letters cheerfully touting the voucher expansion because it would give those parents a tuition break.

The bottom line: Families that never used the public schools, that are neither poor nor living in a neighborhood with a "failing school," can get taxpayer dollars to reduce their tuition, even as the public schools are forced to slash programs and keep per-pupil spending flat.

Forget the school privatizers' misleading catch phrase—that school choice is "the civil rights issue of our time." The real question of the moment is whether we will continue to have public schools, or a pay-as-you-go system that means you get the education you can afford.

That's the fundamental question being debated as Trump appoints Betsy DeVos.

Ruth Conniff is editor-in-chief of The Progressive magazine.

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Comments

This article hits all the talking points that validate what School Choice advocates are saying. Ms. Conniff pretends that public school spending is miserly, that charter schools don't do a good job, and that parents shouldn't have a say in their children's education. She also seems to believe that our schools exist for the purpose of favoring poor and minority students and disfavoring others. It's an extension of her collectivist mindset that elites should control us because they will choose better. Americans don't like that control and they aren't convinced that the collectivists will choose better. Their evidence is the lackluster results of our antiquated public school system. They instead want to try sensible reforms. But that would dilute the collectivists' control over others, and so must be opposed.
"The bottom line: Families that never used the public schools, that are neither poor nor living in a neighborhood with a "failing school," can get taxpayer dollars to reduce their tuition, even as the public schools are forced to slash programs and keep per-pupil spending flat." Huh!!!! I have 4 kids. I have never used public schools. I pay taxes that are used to support public schools. I also pay tuition to send my kids to private schools. I live in a state without vouchers of any kind. WHY SHOULD I BE TAXED TO SUPPORT A SCHOOL SYSTEM I DO NOT USE??? ALL I ASK IS THE CHOICE TO SPEND THAT MONEY ON THE SCHOOL OF MY CHOICE. I AM ALSO VERY OK WITH NOT HAVING THAT VOUCHER PAY FOR RELIGION CLASSES IN THAT SCHOOL. I WILL PAY TUITION FOR THAT. I hope that the all Republican Exec and Legislative branches in the US and now my state (KY) will enact school choice and allow parents to choose where they send their kids. The public school system in the US IS A DISASTER AND HAS BEEN FOR 50 YEARS!
David - you "use" a public school system every time you encounter a retail clerk or public employee who can (or can't) read and write, and every time you want to hire an employee with (or without) the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Or encounter a citizen who is so woefully ignorant that they vote for obviously stupid things and people. Public schools are a vital part of our infrastructure.
Public money should go ONLY to public schools. I am against anyone who you would not adhere to this policy.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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