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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos began her “Back to School” tour at a closed-to-public-school-parents meeting at a religious private voucher school in Milwaukee

September 17, 2019

On Monday, US Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, kicked off her “Back to School” tour at St. Marcus in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While there was plenty of news coverage about this Back to School tour, numerous media outlets failed to acknowledge that DeVos chose this school because Milwaukee was the birth place of the School Voucher movement, a movement that Betsy and her husband Dick DeVos have been part of from the very beginning.

DeVos acknowledges in her speech that she came to Milwaukee for this very reason, to honor those who were part of the School Voucher movement at the start. DeVos uses this opportunity to to talk about freedom in education and how poorly the US is doing, but she was primarily using this forum to promote her department’s program, the Education Freedom Scholarships.

In March, we documented how the Education Freedom Scholarships was just the most recent part of the Neo-Liberal education model. The Education Freedom Scholarships is a program to 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. In her speech, Betsy DeVos also refers to the Education Freedom Scholarships as, the most transformative idea for American education in decades.”

There isn’t much else in DeVos’ speech worth critiquing, since she sticks to the same talking points over and over again. However, despite the fact that her visit to St. Marcus’s was closed to the public, this did not stop people from protesting DeVos and her department’s attacks on public schools, as was reported on by a local TV station in Milwaukee.

In addition to the protest outside of St. Marcus School, there were other groups voicing their objection to the Secretary of Education’s decision to kick off her “Back to School” tour at a private school that has benefited from the voucher program.

The Wisconsin Public Education Network released this statement the day before DeVos spoke at St. Marcus. 

On the eve of a visit to Milwaukee by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, public school parents and advocates from across Wisconsin wondered why Secretary DeVos’s visit and policies neglect public school children. Secretary DeVos’s visit is occurring as parents in the Palmyra-Eagle School District attempt to save their kids’ school system from closure, and as voters across Wisconsin approved a record amount of school referenda to enhance aging facilities and/or maintain programming. Despite the calls nationwide for targeted support aligned with the needs of local students, Secretary DeVos proposed to cut $7.1 billion in federal funding from America’s public schools, while dramatically increasing funding to private and privately-operated schools.

While Secretary DeVos launches her “Back to School” tour Monday with a closed-to-public-school-parents meeting at a religious private voucher school in Milwaukee, advocates all over the state express frustration with her focus on expanding a program that has failed to deliver results in Wisconsin, diverting funds from public schools statewide and putting children at risk.

As we have noted in previous Betsy DeVos Watch postings, the Secretary of Education has been confronted by parents, students and community organizers across the country since she joined the Trump administration in early 2017.

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