As the Trump administration closes out its first week, which happens to be National School Choice Week, the President still does not have a Secretary of Education. In 2009, former President Barack Obama had a Secretary of Education on January 21st. This is clearly a game of partisanship and one of the nastiest smear campaigns we have seen against a cabinet nominee. The reason? Betsy DeVos, Mr. Trump’s pick, is one of the most vocal school choice advocates.
Ms. DeVos’ fierce support for providing families with a choice-based education that meets students’ needs and is fair for all citizens is exactly why she will be the one of the best leaders this department will see in history.
She doesn’t bring any teaching or administrative experience, but she brings a career dedicated to choice and one simple message: children deserve the best education.
In today’s public education system, families are locked into school districts, which determine where they can send their children for public schooling. They also pay taxes, no matter how well the district is performing. Today, a zip-code defines a family’s education. Powerful institutional forces such as the National Education Association, one of the country’s largest teachers’ unions, keep millions of American students in poorly performing public schools with no meaningful alternatives.
What can Betsy DeVos do? Her history shows a record of success. She has campaigned in her home state of Michigan and across the country to give lower-income families opportunity to improve their education. She knows that competition is what drives change.
Competition is a part of America. It’s what makes us great. Competitive markets improve quality, bring down prices, encourage adequate supply, and prevents corruption. Our consumer choice brought us iPhones, Bean Boots, and, yes, Starbucks.
However, competition and choice are a problem when they’re going against the public schools.
The United States faces an education crisis, and despite the best efforts of parents and teachers, far too many low- and middle-income children are seeing their dreams denied.
But there has been change. The American Federation for Children reports that today, there are 41 private school choice programs serving more than 308,000 children across the nation. These programs exist in 20 states and the District of Columbia. The leaders of school choice include Arizona, Florida, and Wisconsin.
The Alliance for School Choice shows that choice works. In Wisconsin, eighth-grade students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program performed 9 to 12 percentage points higher in a statewide math, reading, and science test than their similarly disadvantaged peers. Florida’s highly successful Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program is providing dramatic educational benefits to children who encountered significant problems in public schools. And in Washington, students who received vouchers gained approximately 3.1 months of additional learning in reading over their public school peers.
Betsy DeVos will be an agent of change for American education. Other federal interventions such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have failed. Her Senate hearing has shown her dedication to preserving America’s public schools, with her saying she wouldn’t “cut a penny” from public schools. But school choice is not about shutting down public schools, it’s about the opportunity to a better education.