Why Betsy DeVos' Support for School Choice Will Help America's Schoolchildren

by JIM DALY February 14, 2017

According to her opponents during Wednesday's Senate confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump's choice for secretary of education, is guilty of wanting to privatize the public schools.

To be sure, the nominee's critics are entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

Here are the facts: DeVos believes that all children are entitled to the same educational opportunities regardless of income or ZIP code.

If you want a more accurate picture of DeVos, some journalists in her home state are more likely to paint it for you.

A Detroit News op-ed praised her record of compassionate interest in the individual welfare of children, calling her "a woman devoted to helping kids succeed regardless of their socio-economic background."

And for this, certain members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee attempted to paint her as an enemy of public schools.

DeVos' crime is that she, along with a majority of Americans, favors school choice. But solid research demonstrates why DeVos' views are not only consistent with those of most parents, but also upheld by facts, evidence, and common sense.

Consider:

  • School choice programs put power back into the hands of parents, who are best equipped to decide what type of education their children receive. Impersonal bureaucratic agencies cannot do this adequately.
  • School choice levels the socio-economic playing field by giving low-income families the same educational opportunities that high-income families have. A Harvard study of a New York City initiative found that minority students who received a school scholarship  "to attend private elementary schools in 1997 were, as of 2013, 10 percent more likely to enroll in college and 35 percent more likely than their peers in public school to obtain a bachelor's degree."
  • Similarly, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which awards need-based annual scholarships for private schools to D.C. schoolchildren, has empowered thousands of low-income and minority students to escape underperforming, failing, or unsafe schools. A study commissioned by the Department of Education found that participants saw a 21 percentage point increase in graduation rates.
  • A nationally representative survey by Education Next of parents in charter, district, and private schools found that private and charter parents are more satisfied with their children's schooling than parents whose children attend district schools.
  • A study conducted by John Merrifield of the University of Texas at San Antonio on school choice scholarships in San Antonio's Edgewood School District found an approximately 17 percent increase in public school graduation rates that could be attributable to the scholarship program. The improvement appeared to be one of the responses to increased competition in the education sphere.

It's clear that school choice does not undermine the public school system economically or rob resources from it. In fact, it has proven to be more cost-effective.

School choice empowers economically underprivileged kids and encourages racial diversity. And it simply does a better job of equipping parents to put their children in the best school environment suited to their children's unique needs-whether traditional public, charter, or private school.

Isn't that what this discussion is all about?

It is immoral for us as a people to lock children into a life of poverty because we lock them into severely underperforming schools.

Nevertheless, we are likely to see a heated battle take place next week when it comes to DeVos' confirmation vote.

Here's something to keep in mind, though: More than half of the Senate Democrats on the education committee considering her nomination either attended private or parochial schools themselves, or have children or grandchildren who do.

Why the opposition?

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