“How many of you got here today in an Uber, or Lyft, or another ridesharing service? Did you choose that because it was more convenient than hoping a taxi would drive by? … Just as the traditional taxi system revolted against ridesharing, so too does the education establishment feel threatened by the rise of school choice. In both cases, the entrenched status quo has resisted models that empower individuals. Nobody mandates that you take an Uber over a taxi, nor should they. But if you think ridesharing is the best option for you, the government shouldn’t get in your way…. We celebrate the benefits of choices in transportation and lodging. But doesn’t that pale in comparison to the importance of educating the future of our country? Why do we not allow parents to exercise that same right to choice in the education of their child?”
This is a long quote, but I wanted to capture it in detail. The words represent the basic and fundamental education philosophy of Donald Trump and his Secretary of Education. This is the simple analogy in the mind of Betsy DeVos: Public Education is to Taxi as Private Charter is to Uber. So simple. So simpleminded.
And so simply wrong. But let’s take Betsy DeVos’s analogy as our lesson for the day, because there are frightening facts she is accidentally teaching with this insight into how she sees the world.
First, and it needs to be clearly said, no,Madam Secretary, taxis and Uber are not like public schools and privatized charters. No state constitution has declared that taxis are an essential public good that must be publicly funded so that all children receive a free and appropriate “transportation.” Children are guaranteed a free and appropriate education—an education that does not depend on having a voucher for a religious or private school, winning a charter lottery, or living in a certain neighborhood. There’s a reason for this.
Betsy DeVos makes the essential error common among privateers and profiteers – that education is just another consumer product to buy and sell like shoes or milk. It’s not. It’s the foundation of our democracy and should be the fundamental civil right of every child, funded by our local, state and national governments to ensure that children have the opportunity for a quality public education that prepares them to be successful in their work lives and personal lives, and readies them to be engaged and wise members of our democracy.
But let’s imagine how Uber would change if it existed under the rules of Betsy DeVos’s private and overwhelmingly for-profit charter world.That world unfortunately exists in her home state of Michigan where for decades she’s led the charge for unregulated, unaccountable, unlimited for-profit private charters and private school vouchers. In that world, an Uber Charter would be given tax dollars to pay for sales campaigns with slick promises to convince passengers to sign up for the trip. But passengers wouldn’t have the right to demand that promises made would be promises kept.