By: Harrison McCroskey
With Donald J. Trump inaugurated, his cabinet is filling up with individuals who will guide our country. One policy that Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos intends to support is the implementation of government-funded school vouchers. The vouchers are used by parents to send their children to a school of their choice, whether it be a charter, private or public school.
At first glance, being able to choose is appealing to students as well as parents; however, numerous problems will arise if DeVos enforces this policy.
Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers, said in an interview with Democracy Now,“In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding, and destroying public education in America.”
One of DeVos’ arguments for vouchers is that allowing parents and students to pick creates competition among schools, thus improving them; however, the exact opposite is true. Using taxpayer dollars to send students to charter and private schools will create unproductive competition between students. Currently, college applicants are in the situation where they must stand out among others to be accepted into the college they want. K-12 students should be able to attend a well-funded, clean school without any need to use a voucher to change schools.
There is only so much money that the government gives state and county schools to operate. If the vouchers are implemented, then federal money will be spread too thin. Changing the entire way of educating the next generation will not fix the funding problem.
There is a massive difference between public and private schools that DeVos seemingly has not paid attention to: private are for profit while public are nonprofit. If enrolled in a public school, every cent the government pays is for the classes, textbooks and extracurricular activities students have access to. With private and most charter schools, it is unknown for certain what amount of money is profit for the school, and what is put toward education and preparing for future careers. Turning the education system into a free market is what DeVos plans to do with the school vouchers. This makes the schools’ number one priority to make money instead of prepare students.
Private and charter schools are ultimately not better to educate all students. Unlike private and charter schools, public schools cannot turn any student away for any reason, whether it be monetary, religious or otherwise. Instead, private and charter schools are able to choose what students they think will succeed. Also, test preparation and test taking are more emphasized in private and charter schools. More tests for the already onerous weight on students’ shoulders would only make students resent their schools and make them less likely to learn.
In Knox County, the school board has voted several times on whether or not vouchers should be implemented. Each time, the board has voted no.
“Vouchers are unnecessary when students have adequate choice in KCS from our liberal transfer policy & magnet programs. To funnel money from public schools to private schools would have a negative impact on our students. Additionally, representatives who are supportive of vouchers have been unable to answer basic questions regarding student transportation and lack of schools that would take vouchers,” said Amber Rountree, the vice chair of the board.
In both her home state of Michigan and other states, DeVos has been an advocate for school vouchers for a long time.
Andrea Guy, a teacher at HVA, said, “In general, I am against vouchers. I’m from Michigan, so I have seen firsthand what that system looks like and what problems it has caused especially in inner-city schools.”
DeVos’s capability of being Secretary of Education is another criticism. She has hardly set foot in a public school, much less taught a classroom. Guy also said, “ [DeVos] has no educational background whatsoever and certainly has no background with actually administering a Pell grant system or any system of federal grants. It would be completely mismanaged, and a travesty.”
Public education is meant to give the coming generation everything they need to become intelligent, well-informed and hard-working members of society. Our schools, on the county, state and federal level, have many issues that need to be fixed; however, vouchers are not the solution. Better funding of schools, higher wages for teachers and less testing are what need to take place in order for schools to improve.