The US Senate voted today, 51-50, to confirm President Donald Trump’s nomination for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, a wealthy philanthropist from Michigan who has spent much of her professional life working to expand “school choice,” mainly through charter schools and vouchers, but has very little experience with US public schools.
The vote marks the first time in US history that a vice president has had to break a tie for a cabinet position, the New York Times reports, citing a Senate historian.
All Democratic senators voted against her confirmation, and all Republican senators, save two, voted for it. The two Republicans who voted not to confirm Ms DeVos were Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. In addition, the two independent senators, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, voted against her confirmation.
Ms DeVos, 59, becomes the 11th (non-interim) education secretary and the third woman since President Jimmy Carter created the cabinet position.
Charter schools are publicly funded, but most of them are privately run; vouchers provide public dollars for students to attend private schools, the Wall Street Journal explains.
I too am a huge fan of private schools, many of which provide an excellent and well-rounded education for our kids. Many charter schools also satisfy a need parents and children have, a need that can’t be met by traditional public schools. But the flaw in the argument is that Ms DeVos supports sending taxpayer dollars to religious and even for-profit schools and, as far as charter schools are concerned, doesn’t believe in strong oversight.
School choice advocates have said in the past that making public schools “compete” for dollars will drive them to perform better, but the US already ranks among the highest spenders on education in the developed world. In 2012, the US spent $11,700 per full-time equivalent student on elementary and secondary education—31 percent above the average of countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to an Education Department report last summer citing OECD data. Money just doesn’t matter much.
In reality, vouchers and charter schools have removed money from the public schools that might have been used to improve the quality of educational programs at those schools. Then, students stuck in those public schools end up worse off. In addition, because charter schools are often not as accountable to the government as public schools are, they often close abruptly and can leave kids wandering aimlessly amid a school landscape.
The vote sounds a tolling of the bells for an American meritocracy and sends the message to our children that it’s not really important for them to do their homework. If you’re rich, you’ll climb to the top of all ladders. Yet teachers, in individual classrooms, have shut the door on far greater threats to our children’s education than an unqualified education secretary at the federal level. Let the privatization debate begin!