DeVos dou­bles down on re­forms

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Cal Thomas

I re­cently in­ter­viewed Sec­re­tary of Education Betsy DeVos who claimed the pres­i­dent’s pro­posed $4.8 tril­lion bud­get in­cludes “a sig­nif­i­cant step to­ward re­turn­ing flex­i­bil­ity to the states through a pro­posal to block grant all of the ele­men­tary and sec­ondary education funds ... and let (states) pri­or­i­tize where those funds are going to be best uti­lized.”

Ms. DeVos has tried to re­duce the fed­eral foot­print in pub­lic education, be­cause the more than $1 tril­lion she says has been spent has not pro­duced pos­i­tive re­sults.

Dur­ing his State of the Union ad­dress, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­it­er­ated his sup­port for school choice. He in­tro­duced an African-Amer­i­can girl and her mother and said they had been de­nied the right to se­lect a bet­ter school over the un­der­per­form­ing one she now at­tends. The pres­i­dent said the girl would re­ceive an “Op­por­tu­nity Schol­ar­ship” any­way.

I asked Ms. DeVos: Who is pay­ing for it? “The one for her is be­ing pri­vately funded,” she said (an aide later told me Ms. DeVos is the bene­fac­tor and do­nates her gov­ern­ment salary to char­i­ties, in­clud­ing school schol­ar­ships).

The Philadel­phia In­quirer re­ports the girl ac­tu­ally at­tends a com­pet­i­tive char­ter school, so a bet­ter pick might have been made, but that still does not di­min­ish the pro-school choice ar­gu­ment.

How­many oth­ers are on wait­ing lists for school choice schol­ar­ships?

“I don’t know if there is a good fig­ure for tax credit type schol­ar­ships,” said Ms. DeVos. “I do know there are over 1 mil­lion fam­i­lies on wait lists for char­ter schools. I imag­ine there is close to that num­ber who would opt to do some­thing dif­fer­ent if they had the op­por­tu­nity. In fact, some re­cent polling data found only about 30% say­ing they would choose the school their child is cur­rently as­signed to. The rest would choose a dif­fer­ent school in a dif­fer­ent set­ting.”

Ms. DeVos sees her block grant pro­pos­als as “a very com­pat­i­ble step to Congress’ ac­tion on the Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act.” Signed by Pres­i­dent Obama in 2015, it up­dated No Child Left Be­hind from the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and among other things “Ad­vances eq­uity by up­hold­ing crit­i­cal pro­tec­tions for Amer­ica’s dis­ad­van­taged and high-need stu­dents (and) re­quires — for the first time — that all stu­dents in Amer­ica be taught to high aca­demic stan­dards that will pre­pare them to suc­ceed in col­lege and careers…”

I re­mind Ms. DeVos that dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Mr. Trump asked why African Amer­i­cans still vote for a party he said has done noth­ing for them. Ms. DeVos says his ap­peal is get­ting through, es­pe­cially to those chil­dren in bad pub­lic schools.

“We know that 83% of African-Amer­i­cans sup­port this fed­eral tax credit pro­posal,” Ms. DeVos said, cit­ing fig­ures from the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion for Chil­dren, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that does lob­by­ing and grass­roots ad­vo­cacy work in the states and

Wash­ing­ton, D.C., “which added the ques­tion this year about the fed­eral tax credit and across the board, 78% were for it, so it’s very sig­nif­i­cant. You’d think Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates would pay at­ten­tion to this.” The AFC na­tional poll of more than 1,000 likely voters also found that “67% of Demo­crat pri­mary voters sup­port this fed­eral tax credit.”

What about stu­dent loan debt, which some Democrats want to forgive?

“There are other ways to get at this … with­out con­gres­sional ac­tion,” she said. “One of the things we’ve done is to add a lot of important in­for­ma­tion to what is called the Col­lege Score­card. Stu­dents can go and com­pare field of stud­ies be­tween in­sti­tu­tions to see how much it will cost … and then what their first year (af­ter grad­u­a­tion) earn­ing po­ten­tial is. It is based on real data of those who com­pleted the pro­grams be­fore. We hope stu­dents will use this in­for­ma­tion to make bet­ter and wiser de­ci­sions of what they are going to pur­sue from a higher-ed per­spec­tive.”

Ms. DeVos hints she might not stay for an­other four years if the pres­i­dent is re-elected. She’d have to be asked to stay. But if she suc­ceeds in her pro­posed re­forms, she will have im­proved the education of mil­lions of chil­dren. That would be an en­dur­ing le­gacy.

TYGER WIL­LIAMS/THE PHILADEL­PHIA IN­QUIRER

Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, left, and Sec­re­tary of Education Betsy DeVos, rear, wave at the Philadel­phia In­ter­na­tional Air­port ear­lier this month along with the fam­ily of a Philadel­phia girl who was awarded a schol­ar­ship dur­ing the State of the Union ad­dress.

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