Dear Betsy DeVos: Why School Vouchers are a Horrible Idea

Updated on December 11, 2016

Secretary of Education Nominee DeVos Has Zero Education Experience

Billionaire Betsy DeVos has been nominated as the next Secretary of Education by president-elect Donald Trump.
Billionaire Betsy DeVos has been nominated as the next Secretary of Education by president-elect Donald Trump. | Source

If You Voucher Out Education, Why Not National Defense?

Watching president-elect Donald Trump pick a cabinet has been like riding a roller coaster. Nobody knows what's around the next corner: Will he name an establishment Republican, a hard-liner, or someone from outside of politics entirely? Already, the bombastic billionaire has named a cabinet heavy on billionaires, military brass, and what could be described as "rookies and rogues." An alarming number are complete rookies at public administration, especially fellow presidential candidate Ben Carson (nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) and Secretary of Education pick Betsy DeVos.

As a teacher at a public high school, I am rankled by the pick of billionaire DeVos for EdSec. Not only has DeVos never taught a day in her life (sadly, not unique among the Capitol Hill set), but she has also never even attended a public school. More worrisome, however, is her staunch support for "free market" charter schools and, even worse, school vouchers. Although many in public education can get behind the Republican mantra of ending Common Core and increasing local control of curricula and standards, few educators can view controversial school voucher programs as anything but theft from public education.

For those who haven't heard, school voucher programs give taxpayer dollars to parents to help them send their kids to private schools. This is part of the "school choice" philosophy that says education as a whole will improve if schools, both public and private, "compete" for students. Allegedly, bloated and stagnant public schools will improve if they are forced to compete with charter schools and private schools.

The only problem? The "competition" is far from fair. Private schools, and even many charter schools, do not have to accept students they don't want. Therefore, while public schools are busy teaching low-income students whose parents do not have the time to read to them or help them with their homework, private schools and elite charter schools get to teach the students who have already "won the game." There can be no comparison between the two types of schools, for you would be comparing public apples with cherry-picked oranges.

Additionally, private schools and elite charter schools can dump any students who underperform, and these students are immediately sent back to traditional public schools. Therefore, these paragons of "school choice" are able to further game the system by getting rid of their "failures" and forcing them upon the public schools. The private schools will take no responsibility for these students' low scores, and will likely blame the public schools from whence the students came.

All of this would be fine, were it not for the use of public dollars. If you wish to send your children to private schools, that is your right. However, you must pay for it yourself. You cannot divert money from the public schools in order to, in your view, send your children someplace "better."

For those who insist that "school choice" is acceptable, then other examples of public good choice must also be allowable. Citizens should have "public safety choice," "transportation choice," and "national security choice." Why should traditional police, fire, EMS, and military units have a monopoly on our tax dollars? After all, these public services are likely to underperform without facing the rigors of competition.

If you should be able to get public dollar vouchers for private schools, then you should also be able to get public dollar vouchers to hire private security, install fire suppression systems, and buy your national security from mercenary units. With the Pentagon wasting billions, why not empower defense corporations to handle our military needs? Our bloated military bureaucracy has certainly not done a bang-up job in Iraq and Afghanistan...so why not give citizens the choice to choose someone more efficient for national defense?

Of course, most "school choice" Republicans would gawp furiously at this suggestion and insist that our armed forces be fully funded by all citizens. "Taking away money from our military would leave it vulnerable!" they would scream. Sadly, they do not seem to have the same realization when it comes to public schools. Taking away money from our nation's public schools has the same detrimental effect as taking it away from our military. If a critical mass of funding is not achieved, the system falls apart.

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