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Betsy DeVos Watch: Newly announced Education Freedom Scholarships has been part of the Betsy DeVos Agenda for the past 20 years

March 3, 2019

Last Thursday, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, along with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), announced a new federal program called the Education Freedom Scholarship in a speech she delivered

According to DeVos, “The policy will make a historic investment in America’s students, injecting up to $5 billion yearly into locally controlled scholarship programs that empower students to choose the learning environment and style that best meets their unique needs.”

In addition, DeVos wrote an opinion piece for USA Today, as another way of promoting this new plan to push an education agenda that she has been backing for the past 20 years. 

More importantly, the Secretary of Education and her department have created a stand alone website, specifically dedicated to the Education Freedom Scholarships.  The site provides several fact sheets with the intent of trying to dismiss any criticism of the policy. In the speech DeVos gave on February 28th, she made it a point to say, “So, you’ll hear that our proposal is an attack on public education. But beware: that’s fake news!”

Even if Betsy DeVos uses the Fake News ploy, we should not be fooled by what this policy will do to further erode public education across the country. It should be noted that these kind of tax credit scholarship programs are already used in 18 states to provide students with the opportunity to attend schools other than their nearest public school. These programs allow people and corporations to donate to a designated scholarship granting organization (SGO) and be reimbursed in the form of a tax credit. With the DeVos plan, states would designate the eligible SGOs, but the federal government would fund the tax credit reimbursement, up to $5 billion total.

Betsy DeVos has been directly involved in getting these tax credit scholarship programs in the states in the graphic above, through a network of organizations that mirror groups in Michigan like the Great Lakes Education Project and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Across the country, the State Policy Network, which brings together groups that primarily push for policy changes at the state level. 

For years, the State Policy Network think tanks have join ALEC in pushing a broad education agenda to privatize public schools, including pushing for-profit online schools, for-profit and other charter schools, using taxpayer dollars for vouchers to for-profit schools, and even so-called “parent triggers” to allow a group of parents to close a public school for current and future students, and turn the school into a charter school or require a voucher system that takes away from traditional public schools.

In the graphic below, you can see some of the think thanks that the State Policy Network partners with the push these so-called School Choice policies.

Again, it is important that we recognize that what the new Education Freedom Scholarships policy would do is not totally new, but it would mean that there would be matching federal funds for states which would want to adopt the “school choice” plan being pushed by Betsy DeVos.

The encouraging news is that teachers, students, parents and communities are mobilizing across the country as a counter to the privatization/charter school push, with teacher strikes that have mostly resulted in victories for public education. These campaigns must be supported by a broad sector of the population and by other movements for social justice, especially since the future of public education is connected to so many efforts to bring about greater equality, justice and freedom.

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