A version of this was published online in the Sky-Hi Daily News April 11, 2019
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's proposed budget that would reduce the Department of Education by over $7 billion, is cruel and possibly racist-tinged. Her budget eliminated all federal funding for Special Olympics while putting in her budget $5billion in tax credits for those funding vouchers for students to attend private schools. Public outcry caused Donald Trump to order her to reverse course on Special Olympics.
Other cuts in federal funds remaining in her budget are harmful to programs which have helped low income and minorities, including, a program that operates after-school programs for low-income kids. Cuts also targeted programs that provide professional development for teachers and provide mental health services. The cuts in assistance to mental health services in the light of recent horrific school shootings are particularly disturbing. She also cut millions to literacy programs. https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2019/04/10/betsy-devos-education-literacy-cuts/3425172002/
This was only a budget proposal and the Democratic-controlled House would have stopped it, but it is an indication of where she sees her priorities: find a way to fund private education by reducing support of programs for the most vulnerable, those with disabilities, and those from low-income families.
DeVos has clearly stated that she intends to interpret laws to suit her religious agenda. Her agenda has always been to get federal funding for religious-based education. The separation of church and state has always been a fundamental provision of the Constitution that forbids the government from establishing a state religion. Those opposed to public funding of religious-based schools cite this as a reason. DeVos' way around this is to give vouchers to parents to use wherever they wish. In 2002, the US Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 split ruled in favor of a voucher program in Ohio if it went to parents, not to schools, had a secular purpose, and did not fund religious education.
In recent Congressional testimony, DeVos also was charged with racism since she is reviewing department guidance that protected minorities from unequal disciplinary treatment in public education. Rates of disciplinary action against African Americans are much higher for the same infractions as White students. DeVoss has cited a source that concluded that certain racial groups had more behavior problems, so they needed more frequent discipline. The question was not only would she permit treatment of African American students differently, but she cut the budget for enforcement of civil rights by $1million. Critics of private education note that private schools can pick and choose who they admit and are exempted from federal anti-discrimination laws so long as they do not receive federal money. There are limits and permissions, however, that vary from state to state, particularly regarding religious preferences and sexual orientation.
Charter schools have a great deal of bi-partisan political support. While charter schools are publicly financed and are bound by anti-discrimination rules and law, in practice some have found a way around that standard by making the admissions application process difficult for minority families. Minority students also have a record of more frequent expulsions. Charter schools have also been found to discriminate against admitting "hard" to educate kids with behavior problems, low achievement scores, and special needs by ignoring inquiries from their parents seeking admission. Often charter schools are administered by for-profit enterprises.
In my blog posting 11/27/16, there was a more thorough discussion of vouchers for religious-based school based on an attempt to set up a program in Douglas County, Colorado. Below are some excerpts.
So what is wrong about those who support using taxpayer money vouchers in support of "religious education". What is at issue is the separation of church and state in the Constitution and if funding religious schools violates that. provision.
There was an attempt in a Denver suburb, Douglas County, to allow vouchers to be used for religious based schools. The effort failed in a federal court.
On the other hand, the Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 split ruled in favor of a voucher program in Ohio if it went to parents, not to schools, had a secular purpose, and did not fund religious education.
The Private Choice Test developed by the Court, for a voucher program to be constitutional was that it must meet all of the following criteria:
- the program must have a valid secular purpose
- aid must go to parents and not to the schools
- a broad class of beneficiaries must be covered
- the program must be neutral with respect to religion
- there must be adequate nonreligious options
However, the results have had mixed performance on student tests. From a public policy viewpoint, it has not been a great success.
" From the public policy perspective, will students' education benefit? We do have some experience with vouchers and the results are contrary to expectations of many. advocates of vouchers. From the public policy perspective, Students using vouchers to attend private schools in Ohio performed significantly worse on state tests than their peers who remained in public schools, according to a new study. In Wisconsin, a study finds little or no indication that pupils in those Milwaukee public schools that have more school choice possibilities nearby made significantly greater year-to-year gains in primary school tests than pupils in other Milwaukee public schools. (http://www.epi.org/publication/book_vouchers/)The conclusion from these experiences is that vouchers do not benefit the students so much as it satisfies ideological and political beliefs that choice that includes private schools is the most important criteria or that anything private is better than that which is government funded."
Posted on Facebook in the comment section of the posting of this was a very well expressed comment: by Maggie Orth.
"The problem with vouchers is that they create a baseline cost for education. Those who can only afford the vouchers will get crap. Those who can supplement will get more. Moreover, vouchers assume that working parents have the resources and time to weed through a complex marketplace-- just as Medicare vouchers do with seniors. I shudder to think of my poor parents who are struggling with my father's Alzheimer's trying to sort through "market-based Medicare options." The only thing education vouchers guarantee is a parent's right to indoctrinate their children and deny them access to ideas the parents don't like. There are facts in the world- like geology and science. If people think the US can be a world-class stable democracy and economy when people can teach their children whatever facts they want, they are very wrong."