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DeVos: It Would Be a ‘Terrible Mistake’ for States Not to Expand School Choice

By Andrew Ujifusa — May 22, 2017 2 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos used a speech at the American Federation for Children’s national summit in Indianapolis on Monday to rally states behind the cause of expanding school choice—even though the Trump administration won’t force them to do so.

In the speech before the school choice advocacy group that DeVos used to lead, the education secretary said President Donald Trump soon will propose “the most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history.”

She didn’t provide any details on how those choice programs would work as the Trump administration prepares to release its fiscal 2018 budget. But DeVos did say that while Washington won’t force states into expanding choice programs and will leave states a lot of flexibility, those states that decline to do so will be held accountable by their constituents.

“If a state doesn’t want to participate, that would be a terrible mistake on their part,” DeVos said. “They will be hurting the children and families who can least afford it. If politicians in a state block education choice, it means those politicians do not support equal opportunity for all kids.”

The Trump education budget proposal for fiscal 2018, slated to be released early Tuesday, seeks to make several investments in K-12 choice for fiscal 2018. It would increase charter school grants by nearly 50 percent (up to $500 million), create a new grant program to promote public school choice under the Title I umbrella, and convert a research and innovation program in order to promote vouchers, according to leaked documents reported last week. But preliminary budget information as of Monday still hadn’t revealed how states and districts could take advantage of these dollars, and what if any strings might be attached.

DeVos also didn’t shy away from condemning her critics, arguing that opponents of choice seek to keep schools in the “Stone Age.” And at one point, DeVos compared opponents of innovation and choice in K-12 to “flat-earthers.” But she also called on advocates not to simply push choice for its own sake: “If a menu is full of bad options, do you really have a choice? Every option should be held accountable ... to communities, not Washington, D.C., bureaucrats.”

She also said school choice should have bipartisan support, and noted that the nation’s first voucher program in Milwaukee was started by a Democrat—more on that politician, Annette Polly Williams, here.

For all of DeVos’ push on behalf of Trump’s budget, federal lawmakers might be leery of significant federal spending on choice, even if the Trump administration makes such programs voluntary for states and districts. In 2015, the Senate voted down a significant school choice program during the debate over what became the Every Student Succeeds Act.

DeVos is slated to testify before a House appropriations subcommittee about the Trump education budget on Wednesday.

Image: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at the American Federation for Children’s national summit in Indianapolis on Monday, May 22.

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Arianna Prothero, Assistant Editor contributed to this article.