The first stop in Betsy DeVos’  2019 #EducationFreedomTour was St. Marcus Lutheran School, a private school n Milwaukee that accepts vouchers.
Photo: U.S. Department of Education
Photo: U.S. Department of Education

Betsy DeVos’ favorite subject in her back-to-school tour: School choice

A department official will also visit Atlanta Wednesday to tout Education Freedom Scholarships

I have sat down with four U.S. education secretaries in my 22 years writing about education policy. They all had pet issues, but they addressed a range of education problems and programs in interviews and in public appearances around the country, from the power of pre-k to the teacher shortage to the equity gap. 

The current secretary of education is different. Betsy DeVos usually advocates and highlights one cause dear to her – school choice.

It dominates her presentations, to the point that she sometimes interjects choice where it doesn’t fit. In 2017, she described Historically Black Colleges and Universities as “pioneers” of school choice, ignoring their beginnings as a response to the segregation that locked black students out of most higher ed institutions.

DeVos believes school choice will solve education problems, although it is unclear how choice will stop the bleed of teachers leaving the profession or the dearth of special education teachers hitting some metro districts hard this year. 

In her visit to a private school Monday in Milwaukee that accepts vouchers, she continued her homage to choice: 

So, I’ve come to Milwaukee—the birthplace of education freedom—to stand on the shoulders of giants and say: Now is the time to ignite a new birth of freedom for all of America’s students. We have a bold plan to do just that—an American education freedom agenda. The freedom to learn. The freedom to grow. The freedom to advance. The freedom to pursue the education that works for you. Students in control of their pathway to a successful education, career, and life. Families in control of how, when, and where their students will learn best. 

On Wednesday, she will tour a charter school in Cleveland, Ohio. While the secretary’s back-to-school tour promoting “education freedom” does not include Atlanta, a surrogate will be here and he, too, will champion the cause.

The U.S. Department of Education sent an alert that Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan will visit Wednesday. 

The announcement said his first stop will be the Atlanta Youth Academy. “Students will share how the unique style of teaching, tailored to their individual academic needs, has benefited them. Brogan also will discuss how Education Freedom Scholarships could expand education opportunities in Georgia and provide more students with the opportunity to access education options that work best for them,” said the release.

Education Freedom Scholarships would give a dollar-for-dollar federal tax credit for donations to state-identified scholarship-granting organizations. Georgia has a state-based private school tax credit in place already. The proposed $5 billion annual federal tax credit is considered unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled U.S. House. 

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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