Beware of Trump and DeVos’ grand plan to privatize public education

First published on Washington D.C.’s The Hill Website, Beware of Trump and DeVos’ grand plan to privatize public education;

To Betsy DeVos, school choice is not simply the inherent right that every parent has to choose their child’s educational setting, it is all about requiring taxpayers to pick up the tab for that parent’s private individual choice, regardless of whether the parent chooses a public school, a charter school, a nonprofit private school, a religious school or even a fly-by-night online virtual school.

Historically, the United States has devoted itself to a comprehensive system of public schools, locally controlled and funded by public resources. Parents who didn’t want their children to attend the public schools, could, of course, pay for them to go to a private school.

But DeVos and her associates in the corporate education reform movement have been working hard to undermine that historic concept and replace it with one in which public funds are used  to subsidize whatever “choice” a parent makes for their child.

The most common form of public subsidy for “school choice” has been the rapid rise of the charter school industry. Today there are approximately 3 million students attending about 6,900 charter schools in the United States. Supporters of these publicly funded but privately owned and operated entities claim that their primary purpose is to provide parents with choices.

However, advocates for privatizing public education support a far broader array of school choice options, including funneling public money directly to private schools.

And in Donald Trump, DeVos and her allies have found someone who will champion the cause of shifting massive public resources away from the nation’s public schools to subsidize the country’s private and parochial schools.

During his presidential campaign Donald Trump proposed using $20 billion in federal money to allow parents to send their children to charter, private, or religious schools.

While Betsy DeVos’ confirmation process was much more controversial than Trump could have expected, his policy goals undoubtedly remain intact. In the coming weeks and months we’re likely see Trump’s new Secretary of Education propose a variety of programs and mechanisms to promote their agenda, including efforts to persuade states to dramatically expand support for charter schools and school voucher efforts.

As Fox Business News reported, DeVos told a group in 2015, “Let the education dollars follow each child, instead of forcing the child to follow the dollars. This is pretty straightforward. And it’s how you go from a closed system to an open system that encourages innovation. People deserve choices and options,”

Although critics point out, the nation’s public schools are already underfunded and vouchers and other privatization programs further undermine the ability of public schools to provide students with the comprehensive educational opportunities they need and deserve, the Trump administration is likely to “go all in” with the effort to redirect public resources to privately owned and operated school settings.

These privatization efforts will probably include education savings accounts and school vouchers, either paid for directly with tax dollars or funded through a system of tax credits.

Under an Education Savings Account program, parents who withdraw their children from public school are given stipends that are deposited into government-authorized savings accounts.

Parents can then use those funds to pay for private school tuition and fees. Alternatively, parents are given a School Voucher that they can then use to direct public funds to a selected private or parochial school. In this case, the funds meant for paying for the child’s public school education follows that child to the private school.

According to the pro-privatization advocacy group, Ed Choice, about 400,000 children in 29 states attend schools with the help of vouchers.

In many of the existing situations, school vouchers are limited to families with lower incomes and schools that accept vouchers must meet a series of mandatory academic standards.

To fund their voucher system, Trump and DeVos may look to have the program funded out of federal dollars or they may seek to utilize tax-credit to fund the vouchers. Tax-credit vouchers, also called, scholarships, allow taxpayers, often businesses, to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships.

While a school voucher proposal is likely, critics say that DeVos’ voucher plan would exacerbate educational inequality, that “voucher programs do not work to improve student achievement”, and “voucher programs and charter school expansion drain both money and social capital from the traditional public schools, creating even more of an imbalanced, two-tiered system.”

The problem is that undermining the nation’s public education system is exactly what Trump and DeVos are trying to do.

You can read and comment on the original piece at: http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/education/318948-beware-of-trump-and-devos-grand-plan-to-privatize-public

DeVos doesn’t know the ABCs of public education

This commentary piece first appeared in the Washington D.C. Capital HIll newspaper, The Hill.  You can read and comment on it at: http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/education/315821-devos-doesnt-know-the-abcs-of-public-education

DeVos doesn’t know the ABCs of public education

Betsy DeVos leaves education advocates even more worried about the future of public education policy under Trump. Like much in Washington these days, there were two completely different and contrary narratives following Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing last week.

Trump loyalists celebrated what appeared to be DeVos successful effort to keep from derailing her own confirmation, while public education advocates strengthen their belief that DeVos’ performance reiterated their worst fears about the pro-charter school champion.

But for her reference that guns might be needed in schools to fight off grizzly bears, the Republican Senate majority must be breathing a sigh of relief as they as prepare to confirm DeVos as the nation’s next election chief.

On the other hand, educators and education advocates are reeling from a combination of frustration, incredulousness and downright anger having watched a hearing that revealed that DeVos lacks the fundamental experience and basic understanding of the issues one would want and expect in the person chosen to serve as the Secretary of the United States Department of Education.

On a wide variety of issues of concern to educators, parents and those who support public education, DeVos appeared ignorant of the law, unwilling to commit to implementing federal law or simply unwilling to answer questions about her agenda should she be confirmed.

In one of the most illuminating moments of the evening, HELP Committee ranking Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) asked DeVos, “Can you commit to us that you will not work to privatize public schools…?”

Although DeVos fundamentally ducked the question, retorting that she would strive to find “common ground” that would give parents “options,” she made it extremely clear that she would remain loyal to the charter school industry and those dedicated to privatizing significant segments of public education in the country.

In response to the answer to her question, Murray wirily observed, “I take that as not being willing to commit to not privatizing public education.”

While DeVos’ dedication to charter schools, privatization and the notion of “school choice” was on full display, DeVos appeared to be surprisingly unprepared to answer a wide variety of the questions posed by senators on the committee.

In particular, DeVos’ answers proved that she is either unaware or unsupportive of many of the core policies, duties and functions of the education department such as the federal laws protecting special education students and those that restrain for-profit universities.

After failing to adequately answer Sen. Maggie Hassan’s (D-NH) question on IDEA, the federal law guaranteeing services to student who require special education services, the Senator spoke for many when she observed, “It’s not about your ‘sensitivity’, it’s about upholding laws.” 

And then there was the back and forth with Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) in which DeVos was unable to explain the difference between proficiency and growth when it comes to the use of the corporate education reform movement’s beloved high-stakes Common Core standardized testing scheme.

Perhaps most surprising of all was DeVos’ failure to discuss her opinion of Title 1, the vitally important mechanism by which the federal government provides financial support to benefit the nation’s poorest students.

Summing up the feelings now held by many educators and education advocates, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), issued a statement after the hearing announcing that he would vote against the nomination of Betsy DeVos to serve as Education Secretary. Wyden stated,

“A bedrock principle of America’s public educational system is investing public money in schools meant to serve everyone, not siphoning off scarce taxpayer dollars to private or religious education. Unfortunately, the president-elect’s choice for Education Secretary has indicated she supports an approach that flies in the face of America’s long-time, commonsense investment in public education opportunities that recognizes education is an essential rung to climb the economic ladder. At her nomination hearing yesterday, Betsy DeVos also wavered on fundamental issues like keeping our students safe from gun violence, working to end sexual assault on college campuses, ensuring students with disabilities get a quality education and protecting all students against discrimination and harassment.”

For educators and education advocates, the message was painfully obvious. If Betsy DeVos becomes Secretary of Education, the department will be run by someone who not only lacks any meaningful experience with public schools, but is fundamentally opposed to the mission and scope of the nation’s traditional public education system. 

The confirmation process is designed to identify shortcoming and problems associated with nominees. 

Even putting DeVos right-wing, anti-LGBT legacy aside, those who support public schools have good reason to come away from her hearing with even more concern, fear and trepidation.

Betsy DeVos — A clear and present danger by Ann Policelli Cronin

First published in CT Mirror, educator and advocate Ann Policelli Cronin highlights what she learned  from watching three hours of the Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education:

Ann Conin writes;

  • Betsy DeVos demonstrated a lack of any understanding about student assessment.
  • Betsy DeVos said that permitting guns in schools is a decision that should be left up to individual schools.
  • Betsy DeVos did not commit to preschool for all children.
  • Betsy DeVos said that educating children with special needs and disabilities is up to individual schools and districts, and she did not commit to upholding existing federal mandates regarding the education of children with special needs and children with disabilities.
  • Betsy DeVos said that she does not support equal accountability for all schools that receive taxpayer funds. Charter schools, funded with taxes, will not have the same accountability and transparency as traditional public schools.
  • Betsy DeVos said that charter schools, funded with public taxes, do not have to adhere to the same policies as traditional public schools in regard to regulations about student bullying and student suspensions.
  • Betsy DeVos did not commit to the enforcement of existing federal laws addressing waste, fraud, and abuse in for-profit colleges.
  • Betsy DeVos did not commit to the enforcement of existing federal laws which address sexual assault on college campuses.
  • Betsy DeVos will take money from traditional public schools to privatize public education.
  • Betsy DeVos, although questioned directly about the civil rights of LGBT students, gave no statement in direct support of LGBT students.
  • Lamar Alexander, the chair of the committee, did not allow appropriate questioning of Betsy DeVos. He did not honor the requests of his senate colleagues for more time for additional questions. There is precedent for that courtesy being extended to senate colleagues who request additional time for questions.

What I didn’t learn from what was said at the three hours of testimony, but could tell from the obsequiousness of the Republican senators and the lack of questioning of Betsy DeVos permitted by the chairman:

According to Education Week, Betsy DeVos and her family have given nearly $1 million directly to 21 Republican senators over past election cycles. In addition, the analysis found 10 senators on the Senate education committee have received donations from a political action committee controlled by the DeVos family, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, the chair of the committee.

Where do we go from here?

  1. Recognize that what Bernie Sanders has pointed out about our political system as a whole is true about education in particular as well: We are an oligarchy. Money talks. Money wins. Citizens lose. Children lose.
  1. That oligarchy in education is not new. It has existed during the past two presidencies with the privatization of public education through the taxpayer funding of charter schools, the dominance of the standardized testing industry, and education standards determined by the man with the most money, but that oligarchy was hidden under the misnomer of “education reform.” Education was not reformed. All that happened is that the very rich gained control of the agenda for education and the aspiring-to-be-rich-through-privatizing-a-public-institution became rich. But now the oligarchy is crystal clear. Now the danger to our republic is clear. Now the danger to our kids is right before us.
  1. Be grateful for the clarity.
  1. Fight like crazy.

You can read and comment at Cronin’s original post on the CT Mirror at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/01/19/betsy-devos-a-clear-and-present-danger/

 

Charter School Industry’s reach expanding even before Trump…

President-elect Donald Trump is a HUGE fan of charter schools.  His nominee for Secretary of Education, billionaire Betsy DeVos, is even more supportive of the privately owned but publicly funded corporate entities that run charter schools.  DeVos has spent hundreds of millions of dollars championing charter schools, public funded vouchers for private and religious education and the inappropriate Common Core standards.

Charter schools are counting on the Trump administration to dramatically accelerate to privatization of public education in the United States.

But even before Trump and DeVos take office, the charter school industry has been enjoying unprecedented growth thanks to Presidents Bush and Obama and their corporate education reform allies like governors Dannel Malloy and Andrew Cuomo.

In a report issued late last year by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the charter school industry bragged that as of 2014-2015 there were 17 U.S. cities in which charter schools controlled at least 30% of all students.

While there were more than 6,700 charter schools in the country enrolling approximately 3 million students (about 6% of all students), the charter school industry’s saturation rate is much higher in a group of poorer urban areas.  While charter school reached was 30% in 17 school districts in the United States, the percent of students attending charter schools was more than 50% in three school districts, New Orleans, Detroit, and Flint, Michigan

According to their report,

“The districts across the country where at least 30 percent of students are enrolled in charter schools are: New Orleans (92 percent); Detroit (53 percent); Flint, MI (53 percent); Washington, D.C. (45 percent); Gary, IN (43 percent); Kansas City, MO (40 percent); Camden, NJ (34 percent); Philadelphia (34 percent); Indianapolis (31 percent); Dayton, OH (31 percent); Cleveland, OH (31 percent); Grand Rapids, MI (31 percent); Victor Valley, CA (31 percent); San Antonio, TX (30 percent); Natomas, CA (30 percent); Newark, NJ (30 percent); and St. Louis (30 percent).

The charter school industry also explained that that,

“Los Angeles has the highest overall number of students enrolled in charter schools, with more than 156,000. During the 2015-16 school year, Los Angeles charter schools enrolled an additional 4,700 students over the previous year. New York City is second with almost 100,000 charter school students last year, nearly double its enrollment five years ago. Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the number of charter school students in New York City has increased from nearly 39,000, to nearly 94,000 – an increase of more than 54,000 students. Rounding out the top 10 districts in charter school enrollment are: Philadelphia (63,520); Chicago (59,060); Miami-Dade (58,280); Houston (55,710); Detroit (51,240); Broward County, FL (44,320); New Orleans (44,190); and Washington, D.C. (38,910). These top 10 districts serve nearly a quarter of all charter school students in the country.”

And the reported concluded that, “there are six districts in which about 40 percent of the students are enrolled in charter schools; 17 school districts have 30 percent of their students enrolled in charter schools and 44 districts have 20 percent of their students enrolled in charter schools.”

Overall, there are now at least 190 districts that have at 10 percent or more of their students enrolled in charter schools, according to the national association that represents charter schools.

In state after state, district after district, charter schools discriminate against students who require special education services, students who need help learning the English language and students who have disciplinary issues.  Yet despite that record of failures, charter schools are collecting billions in taxpayer funds.

Worse, they are now planning for a windfall of riches thanks to Donald Trump and his administration.

From the Network for Public Education – The NPE Toolkit: Stop Betsy DeVos

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The more we learn, the more we are certain that Betsy DeVos is bad for public schools and for kids.

When De Vos has to choose between quality schools and “the free market,” she chooses “the free market” of privatized choice every time. The best interests of children take a back seat.

And we know the DeVos endgame–shut down our neighborhood public schools, and replace them with a patchwork of charters, private schools and online learning.

We can’t let that happen and we need your help. Present and future generations of children are depending on us to act now.  We now know that some Senators have grave doubts. It is our job to make those doubts grow into active resistance to DeVos. Our senators are in district offices from 12/17 – 1/2.

Here are our three toolkits to help you do your part.

Toolkit 1. Call your senators’ offices. The toolkit with numbers and a phone script can be found here. It includes a link to phone numbers.

Toolkit 2. Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. You can find a model here.

Toolkit 3. Visit your senators’ offices. If you cannot get an appointment, hand deliver a letter. Our toolkit, which you can find here has a model to use, and directions to find local offices. If you cannot hand deliver it, send your letter in the mail.

When you go into the toolkits and commit to an action, we have a simple form that let’s us know what you did. As a thank you, you will receive a special badge for your Facebook page or Twitter account each time you complete an action, and you will be entered into our drawing for a copy of Reign of Error signed by Diane Ravitch.

The drawing will be held on January 5th, so please begin your actions today. Share this link on your Facebook page and Twitter account, or email it to a friend.

We thank you for all that you do. Sadly, our nation’s children need you to do more.

For more go to: http://networkforpubliceducation.org/2016/12/join-us-in-stopping-the-confirmation-of-devos-npe-toolkit/

Secretary of Education designate Betsy DeVos’ crusade against public education (By Wendy Lecker)

First published in the Samford Advocate, Wendy Lecker lays out the details about Secretary of Education designate Betsy DeVosas anti-public education legacy.  Lecker writes;

President-elect Donald Trump selected Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos as his candidate for Secretary of Education. The DeVos nomination should alarm anyone who values public education. First, she is wholly unqualified to be Secretary of Education. She has no education degree or background, and has never worked in, attended or sent her children to public school. More worrisome, she and her husband have been on a 20-plus year crusade to eliminate public education.

Betsy DeVos freely admits that she buys political influence. As The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer wrote, DeVos declared that she expects a “return on our investment” in donating to politicians. The return she seeks is the creation a conservative Christian government. For example, DeVos and her husband bankrolled the successful 2004 ballot referendum in Michigan banning gay marriage.

Among the DeVos’ long-running crusades in their quest to “christianize” America is their campaign to destroy public education. DeVos pushed Michigan’s first charter school law in 1993. As noted in a 1996 Detroit Metro Times article, while the DeVos’ ultimate aim was to abolish public education and steer public funds to parochial schools, they knew not to be blatant about that goal. Thus, they chose a vehicle that blurred the lines between public and private schools- a “gateway drug” to privatizing public education: charter schools.

As videos and documents discovered by journalists reveal, the DeVos and their allies crafted a covert strategy to privatize education. They advised focusing on “school choice” rather than mentioning “parochial schools.” They warned against having this campaign seen as a “conservative” idea, thus they sought to enlist those not on their political spectrum, especially people of color. Therefore, they suggested speaking of “choice” as the “civil rights issue” of our time. A central strategy was to relentlessly discredit public schools, linking the smear of public schools with efforts to defund them.

While the DeVos were unsuccessful in pushing school vouchers in Michigan, they were successful in creating an unregulated, wild-west charter sector in Michigan that has destabilized predominately minority school districts in the state. The DeVos’ influence in expanding charter schools, together with an inadequately-funded state school finance system in which “money follows the child” to whichever school she attends, has wreaked havoc on Michigan’s poorest cities.

Detroit is the poster child for the damage the DeVos have done to Michigan’s public schools. As Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press observed, thanks to the DeVos’ efforts to block any regulation, anyone can open a charter school there without regard to quality or qualifications.

It is universally acknowledged that the explosion of charters in Detroit is a major factor in the decline of the city’s public schools. Since schools have many fixed costs, the loss of students does not automatically translate into savings commensurate with the funding schools lose. So, Detroit schools have had to respond to the hemorrhaging of funds by drastically cutting services and staff, and closing schools. And because the charters that replaced public schools are among the lowest performing in the state, children in Detroit have no good “choices.”

This past legislative session, the Devos poured $1.45 million into successfully defeating a bill that would have brought some oversight to Detroit charters.

Betsy DeVos’ nomination brings to the fore some important truths about charter schools. Charter schools are part of a larger strategy to privatize and eliminate public schools. The slogan that charters and choice are part of a “civil rights” agenda is propaganda originating from ultra-conservative white Christian activists disguising their true aims.

In reality, choice in the form of charters increases segregation and devastates community public schools in our most distressed cities. As charters have proliferated in predominately minority cities, children and parents of color bear the brunt of this destruction.

So it is mind-boggling that, in reacting to the DeVos nomination, Jennifer Alexander, head of the charter lobby ConnCAN, described DeVos as a “strong advocate for choice, particularly for our most vulnerable students … And she does seem to be a strong advocate for high standards and accountability for results.”

Seriously? DeVos intentionally decimated education for Michigan’s most vulnerable students and spent millions to block any accountability for charter schools that were abysmal failures by any standard.

Like DeVos, ConnCAN and other charter advocates have spent millions to buy political influence in Connecticut, weakening accountability for and ensuring the expansion of charters, all the while claiming they were advancing “civil rights.” So perhaps Alexander’s doublespeak praise for DeVos is fitting. They seem to be on the same team.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s commentary piece on Betsy Devos at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-DeVos-crusade-against-public-10688037.php