Betsy DeVos on Education
It was a decision long sought by proponents of school choice and vehemently opposed by teachers' unions, who fear it could drain needed tax dollars from struggling public schools. The Montana supreme court struck down the program, citing the separation of church and state and prompting state officials to deny funds to secular schools as well. Roberts and other conservative justices said the no-aid policy had its roots in 19th-century anti-Catholic sentiment
The Trump administration had sided with the parents. President Donald Trump has long championed prayer in schools, and January's oral argument in the case was attended by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a longtime proponent of religious schools.
For 15 years, DeVos served as an in-school mentor for at-risk children in the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Public Schools. Her interactions there with students, families and teachers, according to DeVos, "changed my life and my perspective about education forever." A leader in the movement to empower parents, DeVos has worked to support the creation of new educational choices for students in 25 states and the District of Columbia.
DeVos was highly critical of the program, reportedly calling it a "free money" giveaway, and sought to change and delay the program. However, she was sued, and a federal judge ruled in September the program needed to "go into effect."
Those eligible for loan forgiveness must have been enrolled at the school when it closed and not enrolled at another Title-IV school within three years of the previous school's closing.
So far, about 15,000 people have been flagged by the Education Department as eligible. About $80 million of the $150 million debt is attributed to the now-defunct Corinthian schools.
"While the law is clear and unchanged--that diversity is a compelling government interest that permits race conscious admission--retracting this guidance will make it more challenging for school districts and colleges to understand your Departments' enforcement of the law to ensure the institution is in compliance," the 21 senators wrote.
An Education Department press secretary responded in a statement without directly addressing the senators' questions: "As the Secretary has said, the Supreme Court has determined what affirmative action policies are Constitutional, and the Court's written decisions are the best guide for navigating this complex issue," Hill said. "Schools should continue to offer equal opportunities for all students while abiding by the law."
"One sexual assault is one too many. It is horrible and lamentable," DeVos said. "But the current failed system didn't work for students, it didn't work for institutions, it didn't work for anyone," she said in explaining the decision. "It didn't work because unelected and unaccountable political appointees pushed the guidance through without any period for comment from those who walk side by side with students every day. The time of ineffective and inefficient mandates is over."
Throughout her time as an education activist, DeVos has been a proponent of school vouchers, which redirect the state per-pupil education funding, giving it directly to individual families instead of school districts. Families can then select the public or private schools of their choice and have all or part of the tuition paid by the government. Of vouchers, DeVos said, "I would hope I could convince you all of the merit of that in maybe some future legislation."
When questioned by Bernie Sanders (D-VT) on making public colleges tuition free, DeVos said, "That's a really interesting idea. But we also have to consider the fact that there's nothing in life that is truly free. Somebody's going to pay for it. I think we can work together and we can work hard on making sure that college or higher education in some form is affordable for all young people that want to pursue it."
Sen. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): Can you commit to us tonight that you will not work to privatize public schools or cut a single penny from public education?
DeVOS: I look forward to working with you to talk about how we address the needs of all parents and all students. And we acknowledge today that not all schools are working for the students that are assigned to them. And I'm hopeful that we can work together to find common ground and ways that we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them.
MURRAY: I take that as not being willing to commit to not privatizing public schools or cutting money from education?
DeVOS: I guess I wouldn't characterize it in that way.
DEVOS: Well, I've never been more optimistic. Today there are about 250,000 students in 33 publicly funded, private-choice programs in 17 states and the District of Columbia. The movement's growth is accelerating. Within the last year, the number of students in educational-choice programs grew by about 40,000. In 2012, we saw new programs in LA, PA, VA, and NH, and expanded programs in AZ, FL, LA, and OH. In 2011, Indiana passed a major new statewide voucher program, which is only in its second academic year and is already enrolling nearly 10,000 children. We conducted polling in 5 states, and found educational choice enjoyed enormous popularity, especially among Latinos.
DEVOS: I don't want to get too deep into the weeds, but here's an episode that may be revealing. Back in 2008, in Louisiana, the state's Department of Education was clearly opposed to implementing the new pilot voucher program that had been created by Gov. Jindal and a bipartisan coalition of legislators to help children trapped in failing schools in New Orleans. The department at that time seemed to put up as many roadblocks as possible. They gave parents one week--one week!--to sign up for the program. We had to work fast to come up with creative ways to alert parents of the new program. We did everything we could to engage and inform parents about the voucher opportunity. We bought ad time on urban radio stations. We bought billboards and web ads, did mailings and phone calls. We worked with various parish churches. It was all grassroots work. It can look like tedious work, but we got 5,000 children enrolled.
DEVOS: Charter schools are another choice--a very valid choice. As we work to help provide parents with more educational choices, it is always with the assumption that charter schools are part of the equation. We think of the educational choice movement as involving many parts: vouchers and tax credits, certainly, but also virtual schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and charter schools.
PHILANTHROPY: Do you worry that the relative popularity of charter schools is endangering the rest of your reform agenda? These days, it's fairly safe to voice support for charter schools. Does that diminish the appeal of other reforms, like vouchers and tax credits?
DEVOS: Charter schools take a while to start up and get operating. Believe me, I know, because we started one. Meanwhile, there are very good non-public schools, hanging on by a shoestring, that can begin taking students today.
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