Donald Trump continued the campaign against public education as a public good in his State of the Union address, with a reference to “failing government schools” and a push for a federal education privatization plan in the form of "Education Freedom Scholarships.” That’s a giant voucher program that would give tax credits to people who give money for scholarships at private and religious schools—schools that may discriminate against LGBTQ kids or exclude kids with disabilities and special needs, for starters.
“Tonight, Donald Trump once again put the agenda of Betsy DeVos, the least qualified Secretary of Education in U.S. history, front and center in his State of the Union by renewing his push to divert scarce funding from the public schools that 90 percent of students attend into private school voucher programs,” National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement.
In one of his made-for-reality-TV moves, Trump highlighted a Philadelphia girl whose future he claimed had been damaged by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of an education privatization bill, and announced that she would now be given a voucher for use in private education. In refusing to expand that program, Wolf noted that it “lacks proper accountability and oversight, and little is known about the educational outcomes of students participating in the program due to a reporting loophole in the current law.” In contrast to the lack of “fairness and accountability” in the privatization program, Wolf said, “We have an accountable public education system in place that is underfunded. I have and I will continue to fight to fully fund Pennsylvania’s public schools.” But that’s not what Trump and Betsy DeVos, his education secretary, want.
Voucher programs give families money to send their kids to private schools that in many cases don’t perform as well as public schools—or that, as Wolf pointed out, operate without accountability or oversight such that we simply don’t know how they perform, even as 18 states pour public money into them.
“They do not answer to a locally elected school board. They do not have to follow laws protecting students with disabilities. They do not have to follow the same stringent reporting and hiring requirements as public schools,” said Heather DuBois Bourenane of the Wisconsin Public Education Network, describing her state’s voucher schools. “They can use curriculum that is religious, unvetted and unscientific. They can—and frequently do—‘counsel out’ students who do not meet expectations, distorting the data on their performance and creating unfunded cost burdens for local public schools. This is unethical and we know it is wrong.”
Yes, and it’s what Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos want to turn the entire U.S. educational system into.