Decoding the DeVos To-Do List
The new education secretary is a champion of school choice, but may need to take a piecemeal approach to expansion.
President Donald Trump pledged on the campaign trail to direct $20 billion in federal education spending to school choice policies. On Tuesday evening, he took a first step toward fulfilling that promise as Betsy DeVos, a billionaire school choice advocate, was sworn in as U.S. secretary of education.
The confirmation of the newly minted DeVos, whose nomination cleared the Senate by the slimmest of margins Tuesday with a tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence, effectively ushers in a new era in education policy. Officials are expected to move away from using federal funds to prod states into adopting certain education policies and toward loosening directives regarding how federal dollars are used.
Likely up first on that new agenda are efforts to expand school choice.
"I think that we might expect some things pretty quickly," says Lindsey Burke, an education policy fellow at conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. "There's a real opportunity right now to expand choice in a way that's appropriate at the federal level."
But what will those things look like?
The phrase "school choice" is an umbrella for myriad policies aimed at giving students additional options for where they go to school and how they learn. There's a big difference, for instance, between school choice policies that expand public charter schools – like some policies embraced by the Obama administration, much to the consternation of teachers unions – and school voucher programs, which use federal dollars to allow parents to help pay for tuition at private schools and are much more politically tricky.
During the campaign, Trump called for a $20 billion block grant program that would be devoted to poor students and doled out by individual states, with the funding following students should they change schools. And while Education Department officials have yet to outline any further plans, there are a handful of areas in which they could prod the Republican-controlled Congress to act immediately, in hopes of expanding school choice initiatives.
One of those is the reauthorization and expansion of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the first federally funded, private school voucher program in the U.S. and one that the Obama administration curtailed during its tenure. The program provides low-income families in the nation's capital with scholarships to send their children to local participating schools.
The Obama administration sought to phase out the program, arguing it drained the coffers of traditional public schools in order to benefit a small handful of students.
"Without a doubt, [DeVos] is welcome news for the 1,100 kids currently in the program," Burke says.
Congress also could be prodded to pursue school choice policies in regard to the Bureau Betsy DeVos' School Choice To-Do List | National News | US News: