betsy devos funding education government privatization
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A large chunk of $30 billion in new U.S. government emergency education funding related to the coronavirus pandemic is inappropriately being used “to throw a lifeline to education sectors [Education Secretary Betsy DeVos] has long championed, directing millions of federal dollars intended primarily for public schools and colleges to private and religious schools,” The New York Times reported today.

betsy devos funding education government privatization
DeVos protest: Protestors hoist a sign criticizing U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ privatization-friendly policies before she gave a speech in Belleview, Washington, 2017. (Backbone CampaignFollow, Flikr, CC BY 2.0)

Included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law by President Donald Trump two weeks ago are $30 billion for education institutions financially waylayed by the pandemic shutdowns, some $14 billion for higher education, $13.5 billion to elementary and secondary schools, and the rest for state governments.

The Times article explained that DeVoss is “using millions of dollars to pursue long-sought policy goals that Congress has blocked,” which include programs to promote and fund education vouchers that almost solely benefit religious schools, and such faith-based, predominantly Christian schools themselves.

A wealthy philanthropist and Republican political activist, DeVos has for many years championed the idea that federally funded vouchers for parents to send their children to private or charter schools — they are predominantly religious schools — would increase available education opportunities, a concept termed “school choice” by advocates. Her first involvement with the movement was as a donor to Potter’s House, a Christian school in a low-income area of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Encyclopaedia Britannica’s bio of DeVoss notes that her school-choice involvement has been active and broad for decades:

“In 1989 she helped found the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, which donated to charter and Christian schools, Christian-related education groups, organizations supporting school choice, and various universities and arts foundations. She and her husband started (2003) a political action committee, All Children Matter, in support of voucher programs. In 2010 she helped found the American Federation for Children, a lobbying and advocacy organization in favour of school choice, and she sat on the boards of several school-choice advocacy organizations.”

My post on June 12, 2019, delineates the extend of so-called school “choice” scenarios being perpetuated across the country.

DeVos’ rapid distribution of new education funding under CARES signals her continuing support of school vouchers that are generally use tax funds to pay students’ tuition at religious schools in defiance of constitutional church-state separation.

She couches her intentions in euphemistic language that doesn’t mention her primary aim: to benefit religious schools.

“What’s best for students is at the center of every decision we make,” she was quoted as saying by the Times regarding the new funding. “That’s why we prioritized getting funding out the door quickly to college students who need it most. We don’t want unmet financial needs due to the coronavirus to derail their learning.”

However DeVos has funnelled $180 million of those dollars to “encourage states to create ‘microgrants’ that parents of elementary and secondary school students can use to pay for educational services, including private school tuition,” the Times reported. She has also directed school districts to share millions of dollars designated for low-income students with wealthy private, often religious, schools.

On the Senate floor this week, Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) accused DeVos of “exploiting congressional relief efforts” to further her personal political agenda. Schumer asserted that the secretary’s push for voucher-like programs and initiatives “has nothing to do with Covid-19.”

Noting DeVos’ questionable distribution of CARES funding, House Democrats included text in a stimulus bill set for a vote today that would constrain the secretary’s ability to utilize $58 billion in additional education monies for private schools in K-12 districts. Congress has routinely rejected DeVos’ school-voucher proposals.

The Times reported that the most galling move to opponents by DeVos in CARES distribution is guidance that directs school districts to increase spending on students in private schools, which are generally faith-based.

DeVos’ guidance, the Times reported, will shift funding from public schools to wealthier private institutions and home schools.

“School districts can — and should — ignore this guidance, which flouts what Congress intended to do with the CARES Act: support students who need it the most,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Daniel A. Domenech, the executive director of AASA, told the Times.

In the meantime, it is a good reminder to all secular Americans that religious evangelicals are always hard at work, from the summit of the current government on down, trying to further embed Christianity into the tax-funded public square, the Constitution be damned.


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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...