America’s Public Schools Are in Trouble…

Tim Canova

Chair, Progress For All

In his first days in office, Donald Trump has done so much damage so quickly, from his Executive Orders to Cabinet appointments. Our liberties and bonds of community are under attack on so many fronts, it’s hard to know where to fight first.

Among Trump’s most troubling appointments is Betsy DeVos, a billionaire businesswoman, to head the Department of Education where she would sit at the helm of our nation’s public schools. DeVos is someone who has never attended a public school, whose children have never attended a public school, and who has profited by pushing privatization through charter schools on Michigan’s public education system. Even though these for-profit charter schools have been able to cherry pick the best students from the public school system and even though they’re supported by taxpayer dollars, in Michigan they have performed even worse than public schools. That’s because in these charter schools there’s far less accountability and administrators get high pay, and yet less protection for teachers. Considerations of profit should not dictate our approach to education. That’s why we stand with the Michigan Education Association and parents, teachers and students all across this country to “Resist Betsy DeVos.”

As I pointed out in my campaign last year, we are moving in the wrong direction in our education policies. Instead of imposing non-stop testing on students in K-12, we should be providing schools with the resources they need to create far better learning environments for students. In 1960, John F. Kennedy called for federal subsidies for local school teacher salaries, an approach that would help provide smaller class sizes and attract greater numbers of better teachers. His opponent Richard Nixon was not quite as ambitious. He said the federal subsidies should be limited to helping schools on their construction and physical maintenance costs. Today, the trend has been in the opposite direction with federally imposed testing but without adequate federal financial support, a combination that has helped fuel the privatization movement and the gentrification of education. Now Donald Trump is nominating Betsy DeVos, The Charter School Queen, as Secretary of Education.

In a letter published last month in the Chicago Tribune, Marvin Hoffman, a charter school administrator, wrote:

“DeVos has been an ardent supporter of legislation that would sharply curb accountability of charter schools in Michigan, this in a state where 80 percent of existing charters are for-profit. The expenditure of public funds in a manner that is completely unregulated should give any citizen, liberal or conservative, pause, particularly when the lives of vulnerable children hang in the balance.”

“I speak as the founding director of a Chicago charter school, which was established at a time when charters were understood to be beacons of innovation intended to help improve public education. DeVos’ agenda is something far different, nothing less than the dismantling of public education which would lead to a Wild West of unregulated schooling options. We only need to look to Detroit to see the fruits of what Devos’ policies have wrought.”

It’s pretty sad. Betsy DeVos may be one of the worst possible nominees to oversee our nation’s schools. She has lobbied to divert public education funds to for-profit corporations and against legislation that would create greater oversight for charter schools. And she has bowed to the gun lobby by advocating for firearms in our nation’s schools.

Public education embodies the idea of concern for our neighbors. As John Kennedy said about why we support public education, “we are our brother’s keeper.” It’s not enough to educate our own children, we all have an interest in providing quality education to the children of our neighbors as well.

Progress For All will keep fighting for public education, for less testing and more creative learning environments, for smaller class sizes and better compensated teachers. Together, we must restore and safeguard the integrity of our public school systems. May we remain unified in this purpose.

For more information, see www.ProgressForAll.org.