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Betsy DeVos ended her private/charter school tour and the first place she goes to continue to push the Education Freedom Scholarships is the American Enterprise Institute

October 3, 2019

On Tuesday, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, fresh off her “Back to School” tour, where she was promoting the Education Freedom Scholarships program, spoke at a forum hosted by the most influential think tank in the US, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

The American Enterprise Institute fully supports the administration’s education policies, policies which have been embraced by the last several administrations, but now accelerated under Betsy DeVos. These education policies are fundamentally promoting a neo-liberal education model, where public schools have seen significant reduction in funding, which leads to public schools adopting a charter-school like approach and partnering with the business community. The neo-liberal education model also means re-directing public funds to private and charter school options, often presented as “school choice.”

The AEI event began with Betsy DeVos making some opening comments about the Education Freedom Scholarships. DeVos made the following statement in regards to those sectors which are not endorsing the Education Freedom Scholarship proposal:

“Big union bullying is unfair to the many students and parents who simply want better futures for their sons and daughters. I’ve been blessed to get to know many, many families who exercise education freedom…They couldn’t care less about how a school is legally structured or how the funds flow. They care about their kids.”

DeVos went on to give an example of how unions are against education freedom, by citing the teacher strike in West Virginia. DeVos said the teacher strike was, “anti-teacher and anti-student.” The fact is, that the teacher strikes in West Virginia were not only led by teachers, but they won on several fronts, which ultimately means that the students won. In fact, students and their parents were involved in the strike, according to Eric Blanc’s recent book, Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strikes and Working Class Politics.

After her opening remarks, DeVos was joined on stage by White House Counsel, Kellyanne Conway and a moderator from the American Policy Institute. Conway was rather unimpressive, repeating some of the same talking points that DeVos presented and using the opportunity to criticize Democrats who don’t endorse the Education Freedom Scholarship proposal, which you can read about at this link

Both Conway and DeVos were later joined on stage by Tennessee Representative John DeBerry (D), Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R), and Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee (R). Not surprising, each of these three elected officials endorse the Education Freedom Scholarships. Rep. DeBerry has even come under fire from fellow Democrats for supporting school vouchers in Tennessee and Rep. Turzai recently introduced legislation that would allow students in the Harrisburg area (PA’s state capitol) to access public funds to attend private schools.

One of the major things missing from the discussion was any historical context for why public schools were doing so poorly or why they were underfunded. This context is significant, since DeVos and others who spoke at the AEI event kept saying that the Education Freedom Scholarships would benefit “African American and Hispanic students.” Again historical context is critical, since there was no acknowledgement of the fact that after force busing and the de-segregation of schools began in the 1970s, white American and the suburbanization of the country led to white families pulling their kids out of urban public schools and putting them in either more elite, racially segregated public schools or placing their children in private schools.

This shift in education began the steady decline of funding for urban public school systems and created an opening for the charter school/voucher/privatizing education movement that was led by people like Dick & Betsy DeVos and the organizations they helped to create in the 1980s, many of which are rather powerful today.

Of course, I would not expect this kind of information to be shared at a forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. If you want to sit through the 2 hour AEI forum with Betsy DeVos, Kellyanne Conway and pro-Education Freedom Scholarship politicians, here you go. 

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