On Nov. 23, President-elect Donald Trump officially announced his nomination for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, sparking fierce criticisms from proponents of public education — including residents of Michigan, where the issue of public education is in need of so much attention. During her time as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, DeVos fiercely championed the notion of schools of choice and student voucher programs, which funnel government funds initially set aside for public schools toward private and charter schools. DeVos seems to be blind to the fact that in her home state of Michigan, privatization programs have historically failed to reform education systems in cities such as Detroit and Flint. Despite clear evidence of the charter school sytem’s failures to provide equal education opportunities for all students, she and her family donated to the GOP after the Republican-led State Senate approved pro-charter school legislation. Considering this, as well as her lack of experience, The Michigan Daily’s Editorial Board opposes her appointment as secretary of education. But should she be voted in, we believe DeVos must take a critical look at the reality of Michigan school systems, consider the role and purpose public schools serve in the United States and reexamine the effectiveness of her proposals in Michigan before implementing similar programs nationwide.
The Department of Education’s mission statement to “promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access” must apply to all U.S. citizens, not just those who already have access to quality education. While a schools of choice system in which families can have the option to send their child to charter schools in theory provides more opportunity, oftentimes it benefits wealthier families because they can afford to drive their child to a better school option. In turn this leaves public schools and poorer families in a worse financial state. If DeVos becomes head of this department, she must uphold the mission statement and consciously design an educational system that provides resources for every student’s success.
Additionally, though charter schools have had success, according to a Detroit Free Press report, charter schools in Michigan are only marginally better than public schools. It’s alarming that despite the large failures of schools of choice in Michigan, DeVos has championed these initiatives as some of the best. DeVos should consider the implications her proposed policies will have on areas of lower socioeconomic status.
In particular, DeVos staunchly supports expanding the student voucher system that currently exists in 13 states and Washington D.C. On the campaign trail, Trump proposed delegating $20 billion in federal funds to school choice vouchers for K-12 students. As secretary of education, DeVos would spearhead the implementation of this flawed solution to failing public schools. Despite the good intentions of voucher programs giving students opportunities to attend better schools, programs like these are risky because they channel money away from public schools, leading to a lack of quality education. For some families, transporting their children to a school outside their immediate district is an onerous task. For other families, charter schools don’t align with their values: Private and charter schools can be privately funded, and therefore are sometimes religiously affiliated. Students from low socioeconomic status families already face significant disadvantages in quality of available public education, because communities with lower socioeconomic status cannot always provide adequate funding for educational resources. By implementing schools of choice and an expansive private education system, DeVos could not guarantee students from underprivileged backgrounds would receive a better education with her plan than from their local public schools.
While the effort to transition students from public schools to charter schools embodies a needed spirit of reform in education policy, DeVos’s current plans for the proliferation of charter schools would fail to produce the quality education that is desperately needed. Private-sector schools are largely unregulated by or accountable to the U.S. government, and create their own educational and teaching standards. The sheer lack of transparency in the standards being set is problematic, and poses significant challenges to reforming the U.S. education system. These scenarios are not theoretical; this is the reality for the Detroit area.
The Michigan Daily Editorial Board opposes DeVos’s appointment and urges voters and Michigan senators Debbie Stabenow (D) and Gary Peters (D) to get involved and take action. As voters, we must call our senators — whether we are in-state or out-of-state students — and voice our opposition to DeVos’s confirmation. Michigan senators should take a close look at DeVos’s plans and how they are operating already and vote for the people. And if DeVos does become secretary of education, we implore her as well as ask others to ask her to take a better look at charter schools and privatization of education in Michigan.