Education Secretary Betsy DeVos promised Monday evening that President Trump would propose “the most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history,” but she offered no details about the administration’s plans.
Speaking in Indianapolis before a friendly audience of school voucher proponents, she instead laid out a moral case to dramatically transform American education — and improve young people’s prospects — by expanding school choice.
“We must acknowledge that the future is bleak for millions of students if we only continue to tinker around the edges with education reform,” she said. “We stand on the verge of the most significant opportunity we have ever had to drag American education out of the Stone Age and into the future.”
DeVos was addressing the national conference of the American Federation for Children, a pro-school-choice advocacy group that DeVos founded, funded and chaired until stepping down to become Trump’s education secretary.
Many education observers had expected her to lay out a specific policy proposal, such as a federal tax credit that would funnel public dollars toward scholarships to private and religious schools. Trump has pledged to spend $20 billion per year expanding school choice.
But DeVos said nothing about tax credits or any other specific policy, saying only that Trump would propose something big — and that the administration would not force states to take part.
“When it comes to education, no solution, not even ones we like, should be dictated or run from Washington, D.C.,” she said. “If a state doesn’t want to participate, that would be a terrible mistake on their part. They will be hurting the children and families who can least afford it. ”
She also said the administration would refrain from “bribing states with their own taxpayers’ money,” a not-so-veiled reference to President Barack Obama’s initiative to offer billions of stimulus dollars to states that adopted his preferred education policies. The Trump administration, however, plans to offer $1 billion to local public school districts that agree to adopt choice-friendly policies, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post.
DeVos is a longtime Republican donor who for decades has been a quietly powerful force in pushing states to allow private-school vouchers and other choice-friendly policies. But her bruising confirmation process turned her into one of the most recognizable and polarizing members of Trump’s Cabinet.
Many Democrats, teachers and parents have assailed her as an enemy of public education, intent on draining resources from the public schools that educate the majority of American children. In a budget proposal to be released Tuesday, the administration is proposing to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, and to redirect $1.4 billion of the savings to various school-choice initiatives, according to the documents obtained by The Post.
DeVos has said that she supports “great public schools,” but that she also wants every parent to be able to choose the schools their children attend. In her speech Monday, she signaled that she is not backing down from that goal, comparing those who defend the current public education system to “flat-earthers.”
“Our cause is both right and just. You and I know the fight will not be easy,” she said. “The opponents of modernizing our education system will pull out all the stops. They will not go quietly into the night.”