Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will go before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee at 10 a.m. today to testify about her proposed education budget, which would funnel a devastating $1 billion away from public schools to fund private, mostly religious schools through private school vouchers.
Her testimony comes on the heels of an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that many called a “trainwreck.” Host Lesley Stahl repeatedly pressed DeVos on how her proposal to expand private schools vouchers and other school privatization measures would improve education for all students – about 90 percent of whom attend public schools. DeVos struggled to give concrete answers.
Stahl was particularly critical of DeVos’ home state of Michigan, where DeVos’ advocacy for “school choice” has been strongest. DeVos’ answers were telling: She struggled to counter Stahl’s points that Michigan’s public schools “are doing worse” and confessed that she hadn’t bothered to visit any underperforming schools to look into why they were struggling or how they could be helped.
“Have you seen the really bad schools? Maybe tried to figure out what they’re doing?” Stahl asked. DeVos responded: “I have not. I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.”
“Maybe you should,” Stahl said. DeVos replied, “Maybe I should. Yes.”
During the interview, DeVos held Florida up as a success story. Perhaps she isn’t familiar with the recent investigation by the Orlando Sentinel that found widespread problems – including questionable curriculum, unqualified staff, children in dangerous facilities – in Florida’s private schools that accept nearly $1 billion in taxpayer funds per year with little oversight.
There are many other reasons to oppose private school voucher plans: They undermine public education, they strip civil rights protections from students and they violate the fundamental principle of religious freedom. Americans United produced this video that highlights many of these problems.
Yet DeVos and President Donald Trump continue to push to expand federally funded private school vouchers. Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2019 budget would divert $1 billion toward vouchers (quadrupling last year’s proposal) – all while slashing the overall education budget. And DeVos included voucher expansion as one of her department’s top priorities.
It’s been almost a year since DeVos last testified before Congress to try to justify using federal taxpayer dollars to fund private schools. Those hearings weren’t any more productive than the “60 Minutes” interview; DeVos repeatedly refused to guarantee that private schools accepting public funds would be required to offer the same civil rights protections to students with disabilities and to LGBTQ students.
During the CBS interview, DeVos acknowledged how unpleasant some of her appearances before Congress have been: “I’ve not had a root canal. But I can imagine a root canal might be more pleasant than that was.”
DeVos’ vague and deceptive answers certainly have been unpleasant. But her proposals to defund public schools and deny students their civil rights would be even more devastating. That’s why it’s important to keep up the pressure on your members of Congress and urge them to oppose any legislation that would fund private school vouchers.
(Photo credit: Screenshot from CBS's "60 Minutes.")