Betsy DeVos Shapes Denisha Merriweather’s Story into a School Choice Triumph
One of the individuals present at Donald Trump’s address of Congress on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, was Denisha Merriweather, a graduate student who years earlier received a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (i.e., voucher) that was delivered by the nonprofit administrator, Step Up for Students. (Merriweather also later worked for Step Up for Students as part of a growing career in advocating for vouchers.)
On March 03, 2017, following her visit with Trump to St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Florida, DeVos issued this statement, which includes the following excerpt regarding Merriweather:
Denisha Merriweather, who was able to attend a private school when her public school did not meet her needs, exemplifies the hope and positive impact of school choice, and her story should serve as a model for the nation. [Emphasis added.]
According to DeVos, the story is this simple: A public school “did not meet” Merriweather’s “needs.” In a narrative that DeVos finds easy to market, the public school was (and is) the problem.
However, in Merriweather’s own testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in February 2016, she notes that she did not attend a single public school but was instead changing schools “constantly” as the result of her mother’s frequent moving:
When I was in elementary school in Jacksonville, Florida, my mother and I were moving around town constantly. That meant I kept changing schools, and I had a hard time re-adjusting to a new school, new teachers and new students every time we moved. Because we moved so much, I also missed several days of school, and when I got back into the classroom, it was hard to catch up. Needless to say, my grades were bad, and I didn’t understand most of my schoolwork. I got picked on by other kids because I was doing so poorly in school. And I kept getting into fights. I failed third grade. Not once, but twice. [Emphasis added.]
As Merriweather’s words attest, the underlying problem was not the quality of the public schools but the constant changing of schools that resulted in absences on top of having to frequently readjust to new school environments.
An important change in Merriweather’s life was the stabilization of her home situation, which occurred when she changed caregivers. At this point, in DeVos, voucher-selling Betsy DeVos Shapes Denisha Merriweather’s Story into a School Choice Triumph | deutsch29: