Devos’s charter school push closes doors


Paxton Scott, Head Online Editor

The Trump administration recently set precedent when Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie in the Senate to approve Betsy DeVos as Education secretary.

It was the first time in American history that the Vice President broke a tie to confirm a cabinet nomination. Opposition to DeVos can be largely attributed to her lack of public education work experience and support of diverting public money to private and charter schools.

DeVos is a vocal supporter of a voucher program. The program would allow federal dollars to support students’ tuition at charter and private schools if they opted out of the traditional public education.

Charter schools can be attractive alternative to public education. For my middle school education, I opted to attend a new charter middle school over the older public school.

The charter school I attended was Mountain Middle School. It was created by a multitude of people who poured hours of unpaid labor everyday into a dream of a better middle school. It was sustained by similar passionate individuals: teachers, administrators and parents who spent a similar number of hours working on bettering the school.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made. The charter school model gave teachers more freedom to teach as they wished with a more flexible curriculum and less constrictive administrative oversight. The focus of the charter education was more applied than theoretical. Hands-on-projects replaced worksheets.

I enjoyed my education and developed lasting relationships with many of my teachers.

Despite that, the charter school model is not the future of our education system. The model is a supplement, not a replacement, for the public school system.

The charter school movement in Michigan, headed by DeVos, has left the public education system in dire straits. The study, “Which Districts Get Into Financial Trouble and Why: Michigan’s Story”, found that 80 percent of the fiscal stress in Michigan’s school districts is due to changes in districts’ state funding and to enrollment changes.

The voucher program is diverting funds away from public schools. If the charter schools were clearly superior to the public school system, perhaps the diversion would be justifiable. However, the majority of charity schools in Michigan are not superior to public education.

According to the New York Times, Michigan is “among the worst places to argue that choice has made schools better… Most charter schools perform below state average”.

In Michigan, DeVos has tried to artificially scale the charter school movement as a replacement for public education.

The program has drained the public school’s resources and led to the creation of numerous charter schools that perform poorly.

A year-long investigation by the Detroit Free Press found that in Michigan, “38% of charter schools that received state academic rankings during the 2012-13 school year fell below the 25th percentile” compared with just 23% of public schools.

Devos’s charter school movement replaces passion with profit. Instead of relying on an supportive community base as Mountain Middle School did, 80% of the Michigan charter schools have for-profit management.

As soon as profit is introduced into education, there becomes an inherent conflict of interest. Is the purpose of school to save money or hire good teachers? Should curriculum be built around learning or maximizing standardized test performance?

Although choice in education is good,  DeVos’s program dilutes public school funding and indirectly subsidizes for-profit education.

In addition to questions about conflict of interest, the voucher program that DeVos has implemented in Michigan involves very little oversight. There are currently no laws that a school must shut down if it fails to meet standards.

When asked in her confirmation hearing if she would support accountability rules for for-profit institutions, DeVos declined to answer.

While charter schools can be enormously successful when allowed to grow naturally from a passionate community, the voucher education model that DeVos supports is flawed by an inherent conflict of interest and lack of oversight. Aggressively pushing a voucher program for charter and private schools is a step backward, not forward, for the American education system.