Donald Trump’s pick of billionaire Betsy DeVos to run the US Department of Education signals that the Trump administration will be focused on privatizing public education instead of on strengthening our public schools or expanding opportunities for all students.
Donald Trump made a campaign promise to funnel $20 billion in existing federal funding out of school districts and into charter schools and unaccountable private and religious schools. Betsy DeVos, an ideologue who has no experience with public education either as a student or parent, is uniquely qualified to carry out this promise.
DeVos has spent her career and millions of dollars from her family fortune supporting candidates and lobbying lawmakers throughout the United States to support school vouchers, tax credits for corporations that provide scholarships to private schools, and the expansion and deregulation of charter schools.
The Notebook reports that, “DeVos is both responsible for authoring pro-privatization legislation and funding the campaigns of local politicians who present that legislation in their own states, and whose committees pass it through the state legislature.” Right here in Pennsylvania, DeVos’s pro-privatization PAC, the American Federation for Children, has contributed $1.25 million to fund pro-school choice candidates in the commonwealth.
DeVos is also an outspoken critic of commonsense charter school regulations that provide critical protections for taxpayers and students from unscrupulous charter school operators. In fact, the DeVos family recently spent $1.45 million to defeat a bill in the Michigan legislature that would have regulated charter schools in order to rein in massive grift in Detroit’s for-profit charter school industry and address the issue of shockingly low-performing charter schools that are failing thousands of children.
What can we do to prevent a Trump/Pence/DeVos Department of Education from derailing the progress we have made for PA’s students?
- We must demand that once and for all state lawmakers reform their broken charter school law to improve education quality for students and protect taxpayers from unscrupulous charter school operators. We cannot allow the federal government to dictate education policy in the commonwealth that would harm taxpayers and children. Pennsylvanians already spend $1.4 billion on charter school tuition payments every single year. Our state lawmakers must ensure that these taxpayer dollars are being used to educate children, not to buy airplanes, pad individuals’ bank accounts or increase shareholder profits.
2. We must push back against any effort that would remove existing federal funding from our school districts and funnel it into private, religious or charter schools in the name of “school choice.” A cut in federal funding for school districts would mean even more pressure on already stressed local taxpayers to fund schools and additional cuts in programs and services for our children.
3. We must stand together and remain focused on and fight for what matters: access to quality public schools and the opportunity to succeed for ALL children in PA.
Changes in federal policy will impact every school district in PA—rural, suburban, and urban alike. We need to be ready to call lawmakers, write letters to the editor, and take every action possible to defend Pennsylvania’s children and their public schools from policies that will diminish their opportunities and make their futures less bright.