As Senator Patty Murray tells it, Luke was a middle-school boy who used a private school voucher program to attend Manatee Learning Academy in Bradenton, Florida. He did well at Manatee, but when he tried to switch schools for tenth grade, he realized his credits wouldn’t transfer since Manatee—unbeknownst to him and his family—lacked accreditation.
“For all those glossy voucher program brochures,” Luke’s grandmother Nadell Northropwrote in a Medium post for the American Federation of Teachers, “nobody running the program bothered to mention that schools taking voucher students didn’t have to be accredited, and their teachers didn’t have to be certified.” And so, instead of repeating a grade, Northrop’s grandson simply dropped out of school altogether.
“Luke was a good student,”Murray said Wednesday in a speech at the Center for American Progress.“We failed him.”
Murray’s point, as she also explained in a Wednesday memo to her Senate colleagues, was that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’sschool privatization agenda will hurt lots of students like Luke. And the senator, a Democrat from Washington state and the ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, wants her colleagues to start making this case more aggressively, as DeVos ramps up her advocacy for school vouchers nationwide.
The central appeal of DeVos’s school privatization agenda is the notion of “school choice”—that students trapped in failing public schools, many of whom are minority kids, should have the opportunity to choose a public charter or private school that will, ostensibly, provide them a better education. It’s a powerful narrative for President Donald Trump and Republicans, allowing conservatives to cast their policies as a form of social justice—the free market in service of civil rights.