Betsy DeVos Could Change Public School Funding

by Lani Seelinger
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Dealing with public schools is sort of a big part of the Secretary of Education's job. If you've been paying attention to the Senate confirmation hearings for Donald Trump's cabinet picks, you're definitely not the only one wondering what will happen to public schools if Betsy DeVos steps into that position.

The billionaire and long-time charter school advocate, now poised to head up the Department of Education, does not exactly have a good record of defending America's public schools — nor has she promised to protect them in the future.

Did you ever go to a public school? Do you attend one now? If so, that's an experience you share with me, my brother, most of my friends, and 90 percent of all Americans. DeVos and her family, of course, fall into that 10 percent of people who have no experience with the system. This by itself wouldn't necessarily be a problem, were it not for her dedication to "school choice". She explains this as the idea that any family, even low-income families, should be able to choose where to send their children. If public schools aren't working, she says, they should get government vouchers to attend religious, charter, or private schools.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In the real world, this is actually a euphemism for funneling money away from public schools towards those other types of schools. DeVos has also supported privatizing public education, a view that is far from the mainstream. When Democratic Sen. Patty Murray asked at the hearing whether DeVos would commit to not working towards that goal as Secretary of Education, DeVos would not make that commitment.

DeVos was actually able to test her theory that charter schools serve children better than traditional public schools in Michigan, and the experiment showed that the charter schools simply did not match up. But this did nothing to change DeVos' mind about their efficacy.

Even more worrying is her less-than-convincing dedication to the separation of church and state; it is not a huge leap to believe that she would prioritize religious schools above traditional public schools, which would be detrimental for the millions of Americans who do not subscribe to her Christian faith.

So, what would happen to public schools with DeVos as the Secretary of Education? The question is still very much in the air. She did say that she would be "a strong advocate for great public schools" — but only before quickly saying that she supported parents having additional options if the district public school was “troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child.”

It appears not to have occurred to DeVos that the money spent on vouchers for private or religious schools might just as well be spent on making the public school less troubled or safer. Thanks to that lapse, the future of public schools could be very much in question during the Trump administration.