At Andover, politics do not interfere much with our day-to-day lives or the private-school education we all receive here. But with Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, things may start to change for students and their families, especially those living in Massachusetts, when they have to reevaluate how they pay their tuition next year.
DeVos, a conservative activist who ardently supports education reform through the expansion of school-choice and voucher programs, will likely work toward fulfilling Trump’s campaign promises of repairing the nation’s education system. Voucher programs allot money to students and their families to offset the cost of attending charter schools that charge tuition. The expansion of school choice would allow students to attend schools so that, as DeVos said, “All parents, regardless of their ZIP code, have… the opportunity to choose the best educational setting for their children.” Students with access to school-choice programs could more easily attend out-of-district public schools as well as charter schools and private schools. The President-elect said he plans to use 20 billion dollars — money that would presumably come from traditional public school funding — to sustain a federally-funded voucher program. He also anticipates states will set aside 110 billion dollars in their own budgets to increase the value of individual vouchers to 12,000 dollars per year for each student.
At first glance, the plans that Trump and DeVos have laid out may sound like great strategies for reforming our education system. Upon closer examination, however, their proposal is fundamentally flawed. For instance, because Massachusetts is a state that does not currently have school-choice or vouchers, local students would begin receiving money from the government to attend expensive schools.
Instead, it is far more likely that the voucher programs will privatize America’s schools, funneling money away from traditional public schools. These schools rely solely on taxpayer money to function, and as a result of being situated in poor districts, slashing federal funding would leave some public schools in inoperable states of disarray. And when public schools, especially already poor public schools in struggling districts, are left behind, students of color are disproportionately harmed. DeVos will no doubt make poor schools poorer, and even where and when school choice and vouchers could be beneficial, there is not a plan in place to cover the costs of transportation to far-away private schools.
Decades of strides towards the creation of civil rights laws, which are enforced in public schools with various laws and regulations without exceptions, are also in danger of being ignored in charter schools which have less oversight. Private schools, in some states, do not have the same obligation as public schools to serve students with learning disabilities or physical handicaps, and students with disabilities could have their basic needs, which are often addressed in public schools, unfulfilled. These students would be left behind if America begins to privatize education and embraces school choice and vouchers; this, along with being terribly inhumane, would deprive some students of their right to equal education.
Additionally, the test results that are available show no conclusive evidence that school choice does anything to improve the academic performance of students in states with such programs. In DeVos’s own Michigan, where she has spent time and money — millions of dollars, in fact — advocating for and implementing one of the largest school-choice programs in the country, academic results are far from stellar. Over the past two decades, as she worked to expand charter schools and school choice in the state, Michigan’s rank on national reading and math tests has tanked, according to “The New York Times.” Even with her attempts to change how schools work in Michigan, DeVos has no real experience with education or teachings like past education secretaries, making her woefully unqualified to conquer other pressing issues, such as mounting student debt.
As a nation, we should be focused on improving our traditional public school system instead of proliferating school choice and voucher programs on a national level. The money that will be spent on these changes is better spent rebuilding current schools and increasing teacher training and salaries. In Indiana, the majority of last year’s voucher recipients had never attended traditional public school; the state allotted more money to students whose families already had the means to attend private schools than those who could not.
I think an education system headed by a Trump administration with DeVos could result in some of the longest-lasting impacts of the “Trump era.” Over the next four years, I think we could see emphasis on improving traditional public schools — the best means of securing every American’s right to an education, even though the current methods of teaching are not delivering the most desirable results — start to dwindle if education reform is focused on school choice and voucher programs. At Andover, it may be hard to see how education outside of ours directly impacts us, but if Trump’s education experiment fails, we as a nation will surely suffer. I believe education is a human right and with Trump as president, we must scrutinize his appointment of DeVos and ensure that this right does not become a privilege.