Betsy DeVos, the recently confirmed U.S. Secretary of Education, has provoked criticism from many people, including Carmel High School teachers and students because of her lack of experience in public education and her confidence that charter schools and school vouchers are the sole solution to education problems plaguing the country. She was admitted into the position in February by a historic tie in the Senate, broken by the vote of Vice President Mike Pence.
A longtime advocate of charter schools, DeVos hopes to use federal money to fund alternative schools and voucher programs for students, particularly those from low-income families, to attend schools of their choice.
For public schools, a certain amount of money is allotted for each student. By using vouchers, a cut of each individual student’s money would be given to parents to be applied to pay for a private or charter school.
“In a vacuum, her school vouchers and school choice are great,” Carmel High history teacher Marc Stafford says. “However, in the complex world of today, it wouldn’t apply well. The wealthy and educated will take advantage of this while poorer families may not take the steps or even know about these programs.”
Local students have their own concerns.
“The idea of privatizing education works in some circumstances, but not in others,” says CHS senior Leo Gonzalez-Smith, who adds that in urban areas where several schools may be close by, school choice and vouchers are more applicable, rather than in rural areas where there are no choices.
While school vouchers do offer some choices to low-income students, the University of Pennsylvania points out that an expansion of school vouchers takes money away from public schools, particularly those which are already failing. Additionally, it creates more competition between charter and public schools that could possibly improve or worsen schools.
Junior Gianluca Douros points out that vouchers are taking away money from public schools, which could be detrimental.
“School voucher programs not only hurt public schools and raise the annual spending per pupil but also detracts from already failing public schools,” Douros says.
However, according to a study by Stanford University’s Center for Research and Educational outcomes, a quarter of U.S. students live in urban areas where 56 percent of them enroll in charter schools. Of the 41 cities studied, students at charters did significantly better, with an average 28 more days worth of learning in reading and 40 more in math.
Health teacher Leigh Cambra believes that DeVos is unqualified not only because of her lack of public education experience, but also because of her past failures.
“I don’t understand why she should be put in a federal position when she hasn’t even been successful on a local level with her reforms in Michigan,” Cambra says.
According to the New York Times, students in Detroit have inadequate choices for schooling. With so many charter schools in the area, schools are fighting to get students, who are less likely to perform better academically than students at traditional public schools.
CHS librarian Elena Loomis explains that if public education was diminished and charter schools replaced them, students would be fighting for seats at these schools and the poor, the disabled and those without power would not be able to attend.
Loomis notes, “I believe that public education is an equalizer in a country full of inequities.”