Trump Names School Choice, Voucher Advocate to Run DoEd

President-elect Trump selects Betsy DeVos, a school choice advocate, education voucher supporter and Republican mega-donor, to head the Education Dept. The selection is subject to Senate confirmation.

DeVos is best known as the chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, an advocacy and research organization that champions school vouchers and tax-credit scholarships.

DoEd doesn’t play a particularly large role when it comes to actually funding and providing oversight for school choice, however, and it’s unclear how much DeVos and Trump would be able to change that.

On Common Core Standards, Trump has called the standards a “disaster” and said he would like to get rid of them—even though the Every Student Succeeds Act bars the federal government from telling states which standards they can or can’t use. The standards are adopted on the state level and the ESSA language was added to the law to prevent the DoEd from using competitive grants, like the Race to the Top funding, to encourage states to adopt the common core.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) chairman of the Senate education committee, called DeVos an “excellent choice” for education secretary. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the committee, said she would be scrutinizing DeVos’ record closely.

Trump has proposed a $20 billion school choice proposal. He said the program would be financed through existing federal dollars, but didn’t say where the money would come from, or how it would flow to states and districts. Funding for an initial, partial round of grants could be cobbled together by eviscerating the annual grants competitions that the DoEd sponsors, like those for magnet schools and K-12 recreation.

But, it’s hard to imagine where the funding would come from within the department. That level of funding is almost how much DoEd dedicates to supporting the needs of students with disabilities through the $11.7 billion Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) State Grants (Part B). IDEA ensures that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes participation in the least restrictive environment. IDEA state grants assist the states in meeting the costs of providing special education and related services to children with disabilities. Funds are used for salaries of special education teachers, speech therapists, psychologists, and other support personnel as well as other supports such as using technology in the classroom.

Any proposal to shift funding from the IDEA State Grants program, which would require legislation to change current law, would likely fail to gain traction in Congress and face significant legal challenges if enacted.

The overarching proposal to create a national school choice program would also find tough sledding in Congress. Alexander introduced a similar measure when Congress was crafting the Every Student Succeeds Act last year, but it failed to garner the votes needed to clear procedural hurdles.

DeVos is one of the architects of Detroit’s charter school system. Detroit is not only the lowest in this group of lowest-performing districts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress math and reading scores, it is the lowest by far. One study found that Detroit’s charter schools performed at about the same dismal level as its traditional public schools. After more than a decade, Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of five states with declining reading scores. And, what generally gets lost in the discussion is that high school graduation rates are at historically high levels.

Info: (report).

About Frank Klimko

Frank Klimko is a nationally known journalist, grants expert and speech writer/speaker. He has years of experience helping nonprofits devise lists of the right funding opportunities and secure funding from these foundations and corporate entities. Clients have focused on an array of areas including child care, homeless, hunger and K-12 education. Additionally, he is a Freedom of Information Act expert, who has helped numerous clients with securing proprietary information from the federal government. Currently, Frank Klimko writes the Children & Youth Funding Report and Private Grants Alert, which are Washington DC-based publications. CYF is a daily publication covering Congress, the Education Dept. and the various federal regulatory agencies. PGA, another daily publication, covers the world of private philanthropy.
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