DeVos pushes school choice, gives no specifics

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is proposing “the most ambitious expansion” of school choice in American history, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Monday while giving few details on how the program would work.

“We must offer the widest number of quality options to every family and every child,” DeVos said in a speech in Indianapolis. “We stand on the verge of the most significant opportunity we have ever had to drag American education out of the Stone Age and into the future.”

DeVos gave few specifics other than to say that the state of Indiana could serve as a model. Indiana has one of America’s largest and fastest-growing school voucher programs to give low-income families scholarships to help pay private school tuition.

DeVos insisted that decisions on school choice must be left for states, not the federal government, to make. But she also warned states against boycotting reform.

“If a state doesn’t want to participate, that would be a terrible mistake on their part. They will be hurting the children and families who can least afford it,” DeVos said at an event hosted by the American Federation for Children, the school choice advocacy group she used to lead. “If politicians in a state block education choice, it means those politicians do not support equal opportunity for all kids.”

>>Online: DeVos’ remarks

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump asked Congress to work with him on expanding charter and private school voucher programs nationwide, but he gave no specifics. School choice advocates are divided over whether to push charter schools and vouchers on the federal or state level.

Voucher and charter school programs are facing fierce criticism from teachers unions and many Democrats, who believe they drain resources from already underfunded public schools while failing to produce clear academic gains.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, released this statement Monday evening:

“Parents’ worst fears were realized today when Secretary Betsy DeVos outlined the Trump Administration’s plan to shift billions of dollars away from our nation’s public schools.  These policies have already failed children and families in Michigan and now Secretary DeVos wants to implement them nationwide.  Instead of working cooperatively to improve our schools, this administration is playing politics with the future of our children.”

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, released this statement:

“One only has to look to Michigan to see that Betsy DeVos’ terrible educational experiment has been an unmitigated disaster. Her educational changes in Michigan have failed our kids. The push for unregulated and unaccountable charter schools has led to terrible results. Michigan used to be one of the top states in the nation when it came to educational performance. Now 38 percent of Michigan’s charter schools are among the worst performing schools—well behind traditional public schools. In Detroit, 70 percent of charters are on the list of the worst performing schools.

“On top of doubling down on unaccountable charter expansion, the new plan proposed by Secretary DeVos and Republicans would give a huge tax break to the wealthiest Americans, disguised as a charitable contribution.

“Betsy DeVos and President Trump now want to take their failed education ideas and apply them to schools nationwide. Our kids deserve better.”