On February 7th, Betsy DeVos was sworn in as Education Secretary. She chairs the pro-school-choice advocacy group American Federation for Children, and has been working for decades in Michigan to create programs and legislation that promote charter schools and use public funds to pay for vouchers for private schools. DeVos attended only private schools, chose to send her children to private schools, and has never taught in the classroom. Traditional public school system proponents fear that a pro-school-choice platform could redirect to a voucher program $500 million in current Title I funding for public schools with low-income students.
This week we donated to the nonprofit organization Facing History that has spent the past 40 years empowering young people to confront bigotry. Through study of the historical development of the Holocaust and other examples of genocide, students make the essential connection between history and the moral choices they confront in their own lives. Facing History provides coaching, professional development, and classroom resources to high school teachers. In 2016 alone, Facing History reached 48,000 educators with 92% of those reporting that the program helped their students participate in respectful conversations and stand up for what they believe in.
Both of us are proud graduates of the public school system. School-choice advocates say that everyone should be able to choose a great school, and maybe in a perfect world that would be the case — but in reality, many students are left unserved. Charter schools and voucher programs have seen mixed results nationally, and many concerns have been raised regarding segregation, profiteering, weak oversight and accountability, and selective recruitment practices at some of our country’s charter schools. Rural communities may not be served by charters, and while school-choice proponents claim vouchers can help anyone access private schools, many studies have shown that school choice programs do not provide enough money to benefit low-income families. This issue is vitally important to us because it boils down to the American Dream: every child deserves an equal opportunity for success and happiness. American schools are not a business. Our schools serve the essential purpose to educate ALL students, including those with disabilities and students who are learning English as a second language, and schools need all of the limited funds they currently receive to be able to achieve that noble effort.