Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, appearing Tuesday at a D.C. think tank with presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway, called her $5 billion federal tax credit plan that would fund scholarships to private and religious schools “the conservative answer to what ails American education.” And she said, incorrectly, that it won’t cost the government any money to implement.

DeVos and Conway appeared at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (see video below) for a discussion about the Trump administration’s Education Freedom Scholarships proposal. The scholarships would be funded by individuals and businesses who want to privately donate but who would then receive a federal tax credit for doing so.

President Trump’s 2020 budget plan includes $5 billion to pay for those tax credits, on a dollar-for-dollar basis: A dollar for a scholarship gets you a $1 tax credit. (The president’s budget proposal also would cut Education Department spending by nearly $9 billion. Congress is not expected to approve the tax credit program or the budget cuts.)

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DeVos has been clear since becoming education secretary in 2017 that her chief priority was expanding alternatives to traditional public schools, which she once called “a dead end.” As she has in the past, DeVos on Tuesday hailed the proposal as one that would not take money away from public schools, and this time she said it wouldn’t use any “government money” — even though the $5 billion used to cover tax credits means government money would be involved.

She said:

Our Education Freedom Scholarships proposal . . . doesn’t grow the government bureaucracy one tiny bit. . . . It doesn’t impose any new requirements on states or on families. It doesn’t take a single dollar from public school students, and it doesn’t spend a single dollar of government money. And it doesn’t entangle schools with federal strings or stifling red tape. In fact, it can’t. And that’s by design.

The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment.

DeVos’s comments — including this one: “Big union bullying is … unfair to the many students and parents who simply want better futures for their sons and daughters” — drew angry responses from leaders of the two major teachers unions in the nation.

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Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the largest labor union in the United States, said in a statement about the DeVos-Conway appearance:

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Betsy DeVos and Kellyanne Conway are probably the two least qualified people in America to talk about how to best help students succeed.
Today, by once again pushing the Trump Administration’s plans to cut $5 billion from public schools to fund private and religious schools through failed voucher schemes, DeVos and Conway proved how completely out of touch they are with what students need.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union, said in a statement:

Betsy is taking a page out of the president’s playbook by calling people names when things aren’t going well. It’s so disappointing that, once again, she has betrayed her responsibilities as secretary of education to foster safe and welcoming environments for students and to resist the divisiveness and polarization enabled by her boss.

During the event at the think tank, DeVos made remarks and participated in a panel discussion about the scholarships. She said:

Education Freedom Scholarships are the conservative answer to what ails American education. They also happen to be the answer that a super-majority of parents, particularly African American and Hispanic parents, say they’re looking for.

Actually, different surveys show different things about who supports vouchers and by what percentage.

In April, The Washington Post Fact Checker reviewed remarks DeVos made that public schools would not lose a single dollar to the program should it be approved by Congress and said:

But these seem like distinctions without a difference. What’s being proposed is a dollar-for-dollar tax credit, meaning taxpayers would end up footing the cost of the scholarships (albeit indirectly and capped at $5 billion) even if the private sector is fronting the money.
Meanwhile, the Education Department is justifying the proposed cuts to its budget in terms of “fiscal discipline” and “the President’s overall goal of increasing support for national security and public safety without adding to the Federal budget deficit.” DeVos and the Trump administration are choosing to fund the tax credits while choosing to cut the department’s programs.

It also said that federal taxpayer money would be used to pay for the tax credits:

Federal taxpayers may not be funding these scholarships directly, but they would be footing up to $5 billion of the cost in lost revenue from the new tax credits. That means forgoing revenue that could have been used on building roads or paying teacher salaries.
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