Betsy DeVos has been criticized for supporting school choice, especially after being heard to say that school reform should “advance God’s kingdom.” While this is gaining support with Christian conservatives, Liberals, atheists and others not of the Christian faith have blasted her for attempting to use the educational system to turn the United States into a Christian theocracy at the expense of civil liberties. However, this does not mean that school choice is necessarily a bad idea, especially for families in disadvantaged neighborhood that are often plagued by failing schools.
Betsy DeVos Criticized For Supporting School Choice
The issue is complicated by the fact that most private schools are owned and operated by religious institutions. School choice programs can be difficult to implement from a Constitutional standpoint because programs like Florida’s voucher program may be interpreted as steering tax dollars into Christian private schools in violation of the First Amendment.
A workable alternative might be a scholarship tax credit program, in which private organizations are encouraged to donate to scholarship funds that pay tuition for children who attend private schools. The organizations get a tax break for doing so. The state does not directly touch the money that is donated by private organizations and, therefore, is not violating the Constitution by directly funding private schools.
School Choice Forces Schools To Compete
While Betsy DeVos does not seem to support the concept of private schools being accountable to the government, the real truth is that parents usually don’t want to send their children to a failing school. The amount of property tax revenue that a school district can collect does affect how much it can afford to pay its staff members. If property values are not very high, public schools are less likely to attract quality teachers and administrators.
Time to include some Liberal-annoying facts. In the 2015-2016 school year, the Florida program titled Step Up for Kids provided scholarships to 92,000 children, a 17% increase over the previous school year. The recipients were overwhelmingly in demographics that suffer the most from failing public schools, including African-Americans and Hispanics under the poverty line. Florida offers generous tax breaks to donors who support this program and each scholarship is worth $6,000. The AFC gave it a score of 26 out of a possible 28 for the program’s accountability practices, which include a requirement to conduct a standardized test of some sort, if not necessarily the state test.
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When the teachers’ union Florida Education Association and the NAACP challenged the program, lower courts dismissed the case and the Florida Supreme Court refused to hear it. This was reasonable considering that, while 70% of the money does support private schools run by religious institutions, the state is not putting any money into Step Up for Kids and, therefore, is not using tax dollars to “endorse” any religion. The program also obviously does not discriminate against minorities.
The primary benefit of scholarships like Step Up for Kids is that they force schools to compete for both students and the dollars that come with them. In Florida, schools are ranked from “A” to “F”, with “F” obviously being a failing grade. Many public schools get a “D” or “F”. Parents praise the program for allowing them to get their kids out of their failing school when they otherwise couldn’t afford the tuition of a private school.
Private schools already compete for students whose parents can afford to pay the tuition anyway and this idea can and should be extended to less advantaged children whose parents worry about them receiving the quality education they deserve. Implementing a Step Up for Kids-style scholarship program on a federal level will mean that schools will be accountable to parents who can choose where to send their children even if they aren’t necessarily accountable to the Department of Education.
Teachers’ Unions Don’t Like It, But Are Not Representative Of All Teachers
Why did the Florida Education Association challenge Step Up for Kids? The likely reason is that teachers’ unions will be forced to stop propping up teachers that don’t do their jobs if they want to stay relevant in an educational system that forces schools to compete for students. In many states, teachers are subject to “Right to Work” laws, meaning that public and private schools cannot be required to hire only employees that are members of a union and have more freedom to negotiate teachers’ terms of employment. It also means that teachers can choose whether they wish to be represented by a union.
Even some teachers in public schools are picking up the nerve to criticize both their unions and public school management personnel that cater to unions. In Michigan, for instance, many teachers working for Roscommon Public Schools have decided to ditch the Michigan Education Association (MEA) in favor of a new union, the Roscommon Teachers’ Association.
Jim Perialas, president of the new Roscommon Teachers Association told the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “The MEA was expensive and not responding to our needs.” Even teachers who left the MEA could be forced to pay a union agency fee that was 85-90% of the union dues. Under Right-to-Work, the agency fee will no longer be required and schools will no longer be forced to reward teachers who aren’t performing well. School choice can work hand-in-hand with that by forcing schools to stop wasting money by catering to unions and the poor workers they protect.
Betsy DeVos Right About School Choice
While Betsy DeVos may be on constitutionally shaky ground when she says that the primary purpose of the education system is to advance God’s kingdom, she is right when she says that families should have more say on which schools they can send their children to. The real truth is that minorities and others who live under the poverty line often suffer under the Democrats’ desire to pigeonhole all children into a system that repeatedly fails them. School choice can help these children by forcing schools to compete for children and dollars.
What is your opinion about supporting school choice? Let us know in the comment section below.