Our public schools are the means by which the United States fulfills a collective promise: to take and teach every child seeking an education. While private, religious and charter schools have a place in the educational landscape, this most democratic of promises is unique to public schools.
Obviously, some public schools need improvement. But the vast majority remain the places where we prepare the nation’s young people — rich, poor, native- and foreign-born, and of all abilities — to contribute. They are where we forge a common culture out of America’s rich diversity.
Those aren’t partisan statements; there’s a broad consensus that public schools are a treasure to protect. That’s why reauthorizing the federal education law initiated by Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago was one of the only things the last Congress and President Obama could jointly do.
And it’s why President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Michigan philanthropist and activist Betsy DeVos, is such a grave threat to what made America great in the first place. She is the most ideological, anti-public-school nominee for secretary of education since the U.S. Department of Education was created.
It’s not surprising that Trump and DeVos, both billionaires who never attended or sent their children to public schools, fail to understand the importance of public education in fostering pluralism and opportunity. But it is deeply troubling.
Eight-five percent of American children attend public schools . They deserve leaders who will strengthen them, not destabilize or defund them.
During his campaign, Trump proposed a $20 billion voucher plan to shift taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools. That would fulfill a decades-long crusade by DeVos, a longtime voucher proponent.
In 2000, DeVos and her husband bankrolled a multimillion-dollar ballot initiative to create school vouchers in Michigan, which voters overwhelmingly shot down. DeVos then shifted her focus to the expansion of publicly funded but privately run charter schools.
Her push — and deep pockets — have resulted in an explosion in the number of charter schools in her home state. Michigan now spends more than $1 billion on charter schools every year. Eighty percent of the charter schools in Michigan are operated for-profit — the highest percentage in the nation. The weak regulation and lack of accountability of those schools landed Michigan a spot in what’s known as the Wild West of charter schools.
A yearlong investigation of two decades of charter school records by the Detroit Free Press described the consequences of this lack of oversight, transparency and accountability. A charter school in the first percentile — barely above rock-bottom among all schools — had its charter renewed. Others closed abruptly, leaving families scrambling to find another school midyear. Nepotism, insider deals and financial impropriety were all tragically common.
Yet last spring, the DeVos family funded efforts to defeat a bill that would have placed both Detroit’s charter schools and its neighborhood public schools under the same oversight authority. The editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press called the move “a filthy, moneyed kiss to the charter school industry at the expense of the kids who’ve been victimized by those schools’ unaccountable inconsistency.”
As U.S. secretary of education, DeVos would oversee many areas of importance, particularly for disadvantaged and vulnerable students. One example is the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, whose mission is to ensure equal access to education and to promote excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.
Here, too, her background is troubling. How can DeVos protect and reassure our LGBTQ students when her family has poured money into campaigns against marriage equality and so-called gay conversion therapy efforts? How does she do that for students of color, when she has been a prime mover of education policies that have destabilized the schools in high-poverty school districts that serve large numbers of black and brown students?
The fortune DeVos has spent to sway public policy is one of many proof points that call into question Trump’s call to “drain the swamp.” DeVos wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call that her family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee, and that she has “decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now, I simply concede the point. . . . We do expect something in return.”
If confirmed as secretary of education, DeVos may achieve the biggest return on her investment to date — at a terrible and unconscionable cost to America’s public schools and the students and families who rely on them.
Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Source : http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/donald-trump-public-schools-article-1.2893550