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A closer examination of what Betsy DeVos said about the Education Budget cuts yesterday

May 25, 2017

On Monday, we posted a critique of the proposed budget cuts that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed. These budget cuts amount to roughly $10.6 billion and would negatively impact students of color, working class children, public schools and children with disabilities. 

Yesterday, DeVos spoke before Congress about these proposed budget cuts. Here is a link to her opening statements made before the House Appropriations Committee. 

One thing about DeVos’s comments is that she uses rhetoric that most politicians use, claiming that, the budget lays out a series of proposals and priorities that work toward ensuring every student has an equal opportunity to receive a great education.”

Such platitudes are repeated over and over again, yet there is no evidence that this is currently the case or has ever been the case when it comes to guaranteeing that every student receives a great education.

In her comments, DeVos then lists 5 principles that are guiding the education budget proposal.

First, our request would devote significant resources toward giving every student an equal opportunity for a great education. It emphasizes giving parents more power and students more opportunities. Again, platitudes, with no evidence to substantiate the claims.

Second, the Administration’s request recognizes the importance of maintaining strong support for public schools through longstanding State formula grant programs focused on meeting the educational needs of the nation’s most vulnerable students, including poor and minority students and students with disabilities. Just the opposite is the case, since vulnerable students will suffer under the proposed cuts and there is plenty of evidence that States are redirecting funds to charter and other privatized education systems and away from public education.

Third, our request maintains funding for key competitive grant programs that support innovation and build evidence of what works in education. This also means strong support for the research and data collection activities of the Department. Education funding should not be based on competition, but providing equitable funding for all students, particularly those most vulnerable.

Fourth, our request reduces the complexity of funding for college while prioritizing efforts to help make a college education accessible for low-income students. As Congress prepares to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, I look forward to working with you to address student debt and higher education costs while accelerating and improving student completion rates through such efforts as Year-Round Pell, and reducing the complexity of student financial aid. DeVos contends that the budget “makes a historic investment in America’s students,” while at the same time eliminating or significantly changing many of the programs meant to assist future or current students in realizing their dreams of a higher education. 

And fifth, consistent with our commitment to improve the efficiency of the Federal government, our request would eliminate or phase-out 22 programs that are duplicative, ineffective, or are better supported through State, local or philanthropic efforts. Six additional programs were already eliminated in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. All told, taxpayers will save $5.8 billion. This last point is particularly offensive, since it claims that the states will fulfill some of the programs that are being cut, like Native students in Alaska and Hawaii, plus eliminating Special Olympics Educational programing. The other aspect of the fifth principle is the fact that DeVos included philanthropic efforts, along with State and local. Philanthropic efforts should scare the shit out of all of us, considering the ideological agenda that her family’s philanthropy has support as it relates to education

The fifth principle also seems like a particularly cruel joke, considering how her family’s foundations, along with the various anti-public education groups she has funded or co-founded, have been about the business of transferring public money into private education systems. This point is made less diplomatically in a recent article by Jeff Bryant entitled, What Betsy DeVos Calls Education Transformation Is Actually Public Theft. 

Bryant points out in his article:

A recent op-ed in the New York Times cites a study which found Indiana students using the state’s voucher program to transfer from public schools to private schools voucher students “experienced significant losses in achievement” in mathematics and “saw no improvement in reading.”

But one thing Indiana’s voucher program certainly accomplished is to provide a huge cash infusion to religious schools. As Mother Jones recently reported, of the more than 300 schools receiving voucher money in the Hoosier state, only four aren’t “overtly religious.” The remaining four are for special needs students.

Diane Ravitch, a highly respected education historian and author of numerous books on education, including Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, points out in a recent blog post that Betsy DeVos recently posed for an advertisement (see below) for a Christian school that does not accept students with disabilities. 

This point about private schools that discriminate against certain students came up during the her education budget discussion in front of the House Appropriations Committee yesterday. DeVos was asked if she would withhold federal funding for private schools that engaged in discrimination against students, and the Education Secretary refused to say she would withhold funding from private schools that discriminate. 

Speaking of Diane Ravitch, her most recent article in the New Republic, an article that appeared on Tuesday, provided important analysis that some people are unwilling to hear.

The article is entitled, Don’t Like Betsy DeVos? Blame the Democrats. Ravitch’s main argument is that the Democratic Party paved the way for the education secretary’s efforts to privatize our public schools.

Here are a few important excerpts from that article:

Thirty years ago, there was a sharp difference between Republicans and Democrats on education. Republicans wanted choice, testing, and accountability. Democrats wanted equitable funding for needy districts, and highly trained teachers. But in 1989, with Democrats reeling from three straight presidential losses, the lines began to blur. That year, when President George H.W. Bush convened an education summit of the nation’s governors, it was a little-known Arkansas Democrat named Bill Clinton who drafted a bipartisan set of national goals for the year 2000 (“first in the world” in mathematics, for starters). The ambitious benchmarks would be realized by creating, for the first time, national achievement standards and tests. Clinton ran on the issue, defeated Bush, and passed Goals 2000, which provided grants to states that implemented their own achievement metrics.

Later on Ravitch states:

When Barack Obama took office in 2009, educators hoped he would return the party to its public school roots. By then, even Bill Clinton was calling No Child Left Behind a “train wreck.” Instead, Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan doubled down on testing, accountability, and choice. Their Race to the Top program was, in essence, No Child Left Behind II: It invited states to compete for $5 billion in funds by holding teachers accountable for test scores, adopting national standards, opening more charter schools, and closing low-scoring public schools.

The Obama years saw an epidemic of new charters, testing, school closings, and teacher firings. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 50 public schools in one day. Democratic charter advocates—whose ranks include the outraged Booker and Bennet—have increasingly imported “school choice” into the party’s rhetoric. Booker likes to equate “choice” with “freedom”—even though the entire idea of “choice” was created by white Southerners who were scrambling to defend segregated schools after Brown v. Board of Education.

These are important points that Ravitch makes and ones we must come to terms with if we are truly fight for quality education for all students. Partisan politics have systematically destroyed public education and if we are to salvage what is left then we can not rely on either political party to do the right thing, based on their track record. It is too easy to blame Trump and DeVos, when the record shows that the attacks on public education have been a bipartisan affair.

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