When Donald Trump picked Betsy DeVoss as head of Department of Education it was met with much protest and even drew some criticism from the Republican Party. Other members of the Republican Party were ecstatic as DeVoss has long championed education reforms which seemed too extreme to ever get a real hearing. Donald Trump has changed things though and those who once found themselves on the fringes are now in the driver’s seat and many of them have public education in their crosshairs.
Betsy DeVoss in particular has long championed “school choice” which allows parents to use the Decades oney the state allocates for their children’s education at an school of their choosing, public or private. In some areas this creates a shift of resources to charter schools, but it also allows public money to flow to parochial schools that the supreme court has declared unable to use state funds.
For Republicans, and DeVoss personally, this would represent decades of advocacy that at many times appeared to be going absolutely nowhere.
The DeVoss family in particular has spent hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to push school choice policies as a disguised method of increasing the influence of religious schools across the country. In rural areas in particular, school choice de facto means more power and influence for religious schools, but it also creates the necessary ingredients for a religious takeover of the public school system. Especially in areas where religious schools aren’t currently incentivized to stake their territory, when each kid comes with grant money floating over their head it’s a lot easier to convince parents religious schooling is a necessary expense.
Currently public schools experience almost no competition in large swaths of the country, but school choice would change that and give both charter schools a foothold where it would otherwise be incredibly impractical.
As Americans increasingly sort themselves into silos within their communities based on shared political, religious and cultural views, school choice would enable this trend to seep into the public school system to a degree that is currently hard to imagine. We live in a time of gated communities and increasing economic inequality, increased power for private schools will simply be one more step along that road. And to the degree that they cherry pick the most talented students and most committed parents, kids who were already at a disadvantage are further disadvantaged when the people who generally put the most time and energy into their education are driven to the “better results” of the private or charter schools.
That is another problem with school choice, it covers up the reality of education outcomes by separating better performing students from the broader public school population that cannot be as selective with their student body. By putting an artificial floor on student achievement private and charter schools can boast test scores and better numbers in a way public schools simply can’t and that very big misrepresentation can haves a massive impact on the quality of education left at public schools in an area where alternatives take hold.
In today’s world better test numbers means more money and that trend would be sure to increase in many communities should school choice become the law of the land. Which means more money for private alternatives and less money for everyone else.