Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) visited a Catholic school in Florida last Friday before his anti-Obama tweet storm. The mission of Orlando’s St. Andrew Catholic School is “developing the students’ spirituality and creativity in order to be disciples of Christ in the 21st century.”With him were his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who is close to former Florida governor Jeb Bush. While governor of the state, he instigated the tax credit program requiring taxpayers to provide money to religious schools.
For some people like DeVos and DDT, Florida represents the poster child of charter/private schools with vouchers/tax credits (aka public money taken away from public schools). DDT used Denisha Merriweather at his address to Congress ten days ago to prove that people need tax credits to attend private religious schools. Vouchers are state-issued coupons used for students to attend religious schools, difficult in some states that prohibit taxes going to religious schools. Tax credits provide a loophole to these laws because they are given to people and corporations who get this money for donations while they give scholarships to students. The system can be so lucrative for these donors that they sometime make money. That’s why DeVos and DDT like the tax credit system.
Merriweather attended the Esprit de Corps Center for Learning, established in 2001 and “birthed from the mind of God in the heart of Dr. Jeannette C. Holmes-Vann, the Pastor and Founder of Hope Chapel Ministries, Inc.” Its A Beka curriculum, frequently used in Christian schools, teaches the Bible as literal history. Among other misconceptions, the curriculum teachers about the inferiority of Africa and its people, justifying Southern slavery. Before attending the Christian school, Merriweather barely attended any public schools because her mother was constantly moving from place to place. Her attendance at the private school began when she started living with her grandmother.
An investigation of Florida private schools, however, found the program to be a “cottage industry of fraud and chaos.” Schools don’t require accreditation, oversight, transparency, or even curriculum. The only data that schools must make public is attendance. Some school staffers have been convicted of drug dealing, kidnapping, and burglary. In one “business management” class, students took to the streets and shook cans for coins. In 38 schools suspected of fraud, 25 of the allegations were substantiated, and at least one school used corporal punishment. Students with disabilities can participate in the Florida private school program only if they sign away their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Florida is not unique in its massive deficiencies in private education. Other states also force students with disabilities to waive their rights before attending these schools, and schools in other states don’t even accept students with learning disabilities. In addition, school districts in other states that use vouchers are among the lowest performing in the nation, and the concept frequently fails at the ballot box. According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, the risks to school systems with voucher programs “outweigh insignificant gains in test scores and limited gains in graduation rates.” The answer to better education is not private schools but supporting and strengthening neighborhood public schools.
A 2015 study showed that tens of thousands of Indiana voucher students transferring to private schools under Mike Pence suffered significant losses in mathematics achievement and no improvement in reading.
Another voucher study by the conservative choice-supporting Thomas B. Fordham Institute and financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, studied Ohio’s large voucher program. Researchers found that “students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.”
The Louisiana program used a lottery system to admit students to private schools, and students at the 50th percentile in math in public schools dropped to the 26th percentile in the first year of transfer to private schools. These students also suffered negative results in reading also showed negative results, according to Professor Martin West at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, that were “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature” throughout the history of U.S. education research.
Milwaukee (WI) has been totally a “choice” school district for 20 years, and over one-fourth of students in that city attend private schools with vouchers. In that city, blacks comprise about two-thirds of the student body. The eighth-graders score lower in math than those in 12 other urban areas except Detroit, which also has a high level of school choice. In reading, Milwaukee eighth-graders are worse than even the ones in Detroit.
Because of DeVos’ push to privatize all schools in her state, Michigan has more low-performing charter schools than any other state: 38 percent of them are in the bottom of achieving schools. Michigan students have continually made the least improvement nationally of scores since 2003 and are in the bottom ten in proficiency growth in the four measures of National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) tests: mathematics, reading, writing, and science.State law has no way of improving or shutting down failing charters. Almost anyone can open a charter school if they have the money, and it’s almost never held accountable. In DeVos’ Michigan, students “have no fundamental right to literacy,” according to Gov. Rick Snyder’s lawyers. Seven Detroit students are suing on the basis that schools should deliver “access to literacy, and 47 percent of Detroiters were illiterate in a report five years ago.
People argue that the voucher program is cheaper. Yet it could raise costs by 25 percent of more because of the additional students, record keeping, transportation, information to parents, and dispute adjudication. Expanding the charter schools in Michigan has also been disastrous for school budgets. Once school districts are in dire consequences, the state can take control of the school district under the emergency management law. Once the state takes over, emergency managers close schools, lay off staff, cut salaries, outsource services, and even transfer the entire district to private for-profit charter management companies. Detroit has the second highest percentage of students attending charter schools; only New Orleans has a higher number in private schools.
This article explains how Betsy DeVos took over Michigan—and how she can take over the United States.
Rural communities, the places where DDT got a large number of his votes, would suffer disproportionately from vouchers because of sparse population and small districts lacking enough schools for a viable voucher program. Such a shift would destabilize not only the schools but also the communities that use schools as a nucleus. Of the 13,000 school districts across the nation, almost 9,000 have four or fewer schools where voucher proposals could largely destroy the public system, and another 2,200 districts with five to eight schools risk harm in serving its millions of students. That’s almost 90 percent of the districts that can fail because of DDT’s and DeVos’ voucher system.
Not all voucher programs are disasters. Findings indicated that well-regulated Massachusetts charter schools have a positive impact on test scores. But both DeVos and DDT are allergic to regulations. The best charters tend to be nonprofit public schools that accept all students are accountable to public authorities.
The only argument supporting the voucher system is ideology. People say they want individual choice even if the choice has a worse outcome. As with many conservatives, data makes no difference; it’s belief that matters. DeVos believes that any non-government school is better than any public school no matter the success rate of either one.
Watch DDT invest in for-profit charter school companies. Oh, that’s right! You can’t because he won’t reveal his tax returns.