Taxis and Public Schools By Chris Lauzon
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently expressed her support for school choice stating: “Just as the traditional taxi system revolted against ride sharing, so too does the education establishment feel threatened by the rise of school choice.”
This analogy inaccurately characterizes the related debate about education in America. First, the concept of “education establishment” is a strawman. Federalism ensures a big and complicated set of educational systems spanning multiple levels of government. Second, the government is not a business. New business models are not policy reform. These are different things that operate in different realms.
DeVos thinks more choice will be of greater help to the educational system than more resources. The president has proposed cutting the Department of Education’s budget by over 13 percent, about $9 billion, while proposing to increase federal funding of charter schools by $1.4 billion beginning this October. There is little doubt that such large cuts will negatively impact teacher training, financial aid, and President Obama’s efforts to provide relief to the country’s worst-performing schools.
Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides funds to local educational agencies to improve schooling for students based on a host of socioeconomic criteria. Although Title 1 also distributes funds to private schools, DeVos is pushing for low-income students to transition to private institutions. The problem is that private options are limited for low income families in sparsely populated rural communities. Moreover, The Disability Education Act provides federal regulatory protections for those with disabilities and their family’s ability to advocate on their children’s behalf. Private institutions are not mandated to obey these laws.
Democrats are deeply concerned, not surprisingly, but DeVos “may have a hard time persuading even some members of her own party, who have previously rejected many of these ideas and who are sure to balk at cuts to other programs viewed as essential by educators and parents in their districts.” Moderate Congressional Republicans have demonstrated a willingness to buck the Trump administration with domestic policy, most notably with the American Healthcare Act, out of a concern to preserve more liberal norms.
It is little surprise that Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post described DeVos as “the most controversial education secretary in the department’s history.” The privatization of education in America will become a reality if DeVos’ reforms solidify in the coming months. Government and education will always be tied to public schooling and if families are given a choice to opt out, may risk more than just student’s futures.
Chris Lauzon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an intern for The Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research.