After a contentious confirmation process, Republican Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education on February 7 after Vice President Mike Pence broke a historic 50-50 tie in the Senate.
Devos, a billionaire from Michigan, has never actually held elected office. She has even expressed relative indifference over whether or not her own department is eliminated.
And though she does not have much political experience, she is certainly politically active. She said during her confirmation hearings that it’s “possible” she and her family have donated $200 million to the Republican Party. Above all, Devos is a staunch advocate of school choice and voucher programs.
So what are those, and could national policies about their use someday affect Pres?
School vouchers are essentially publicly funded scholarships given to students to go to a private school. They are supposed to give students in underperforming public schools the opportunity to get a better education and improve their academic achievement.
However, there is little evidence of this being the case. Some studies show slight improvements in academic achievements, like test scores, for students in school voucher programs. Others show no improvements at all. No study has shown substantial improvement in any program.
Recently published studies have actually shown a detrimental decline in academic achievement for students in some school voucher programs. The research, conducted in Louisiana, Ohio, and Indiana, found that students who had transferred from public to private schools in a voucher program fell well below average in test scores.
Even aside from this new information, a national school voucher program faces a number of obstacles. Currently, only 14 states along with the District of Columbia use school vouchers; California is not one of them. On top of this, 36 states have what are collectively known as Blaine Amendments. These amendments to the state constitutions prohibit public funding for religious programs, including schools.
Here in California, school vouchers are unconstitutional. They have been voted down twice by the people. Unless the Department of Education can somehow override the state constitution or an amendment is passed, vouchers likely wouldn’t affect us.
One of the major fears of instituting a school voucher program is a lack of oversight. This has been a major problem with many charter schools nationwide. There have been examples where poorly run schools have not been shut down because there was not enough oversight. The current administration seems to be in favor of reducing regulations, which could allow for even more poorly performing private schools to continue to run.
Overall, school vouchers do not seem like a good plan to improve this country’s education system. Instead of taking money away from public schools, it would be better to give them more funding so they can improve.