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

Republicans propose right-wing education bills in Connecticut

The American Legislative Exchange Council is the right-wing, Koch Brothers funded advocacy group that is behind many of the ultra-conservative proposals that have been sweeping state legislatures across the nation.

Here in Connecticut, at least two new ALEC bills have been introduced this session.

One has been introduced by Republican State Representative Candelora (R-86th District) who was one of only two Connecticut state legislators to sign a recent letter in support of Secretary of Education designate Betsy DeVos.

Candelora is pushing an ALEC bill to set up virtual on-line schools in Connecticut despite the overwhelming evidence that on-line virtual schools have been an unmitigated disaster in every state that has adopted the concept.  See https://www.cga.ct.gov/2017/TOB/h/2017HB-06794-R00-HB.htm).

Meanwhile, another Republican legislator, State Representative Rosa Rebimbas  (R-70th District) is pushing another ALEC concept, School Vouchers, which are designed to shift scarce public funds away from public schools and give the dollars to private and parochial schools.  The legislation, House Bill 6814 would set up a system of Education Savings Accounts, a form of school vouchers. See https://www.cga.ct.gov/2017/TOB/h/2017HB-06814-R00-HB.htm

As for ALEC, the Center for Media and Democracy has been tracking their activities for years. They report,

More than a quarter of all the state legislators in the country belong to ALEC, although the secretive group does not disclose its list of more than 2000 legislative members. ALEC gets 98 percent of its funding from corporations and sources like the Koch family foundations, and it acts as a conduit for special interest influence in state legislatures. ALEC convenes legislators, corporate lobbyists, and right-wing think tanks to vote as equals, behind closed doors, on “model bills” that benefit ALEC’s corporate members, industry funders, and right-wing allies. These bills are then introduced, often word for word, in state legislatures around the country.

ALEC’s long-term agenda is reflected in the current crop of bills now being filed in state houses. They undermine action on climate change and environmental protections; promote school privatization; defund unions and stop progressive wage and benefits policies; and, among other things, call for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to restrict the federal budget.

ALEC is also the force behind the increased use of “preemption” laws designed to strip local governments of their power to ban fracking, pass minimum wage hikes, and enact earned sick day laws. ALEC is pushing bills to stop cities from banning plastic bags, made from derivatives of oil refining. ALEC is funded by some of the biggest fossil fuel companies in the world, like Koch.

Over the last three years, 109 corporations–from Ford to Google–have dumped ALEC after the public learned more about this shadowy group, particularly its role pushing national model bills like the “Stand Your Ground” law cited for exonerating Trayvon Martin’s killer, along with bills that make it harder for Americans to vote and peddling extreme climate change denial.

It is more than a little disturbing that there are Connecticut legislators pushing ALEC’s ultra-right wing agenda here in the Constitution State.