Betsy DeVos as Clickbait

It surprised me to hear the word “clickbait” in Betsy DeVos’s working vocabulary.  I wonder if it wasn’t put into her speech—on Monday in Baltimore at the Education Writers Association’s annual meeting—by one of her more with-it staffers.  I confess that as a retired person, I was slow several years ago to grasp the meaning of the term, but as a blogger I know I paid attention, even before I knew the word, to the number of people who click on posts about particular topics.  I realize, of course, that my purpose is to do justice, not to pay attention to the number of clicks on different subjects, but like all writers who post on-line, I notice.  And I grieve about the paucity of clicks on worthy topics.

As you have, no doubt, heard by now, Betsy DeVos went to the Education Writers Association and asked the nation’s education journalists not to use her as clickbait.  See here, here, here, and here.

DeVos also described her weird philosophy of public education. The last time I remember her channeling Margaret Thatcher was in July of 2017 at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council—the far-right, corporate driven, bill mill that creates the anti-regulatory and pro-privatization model bills that are then broadcast across the 50 state legislatures to be introduced.

I suspect this time, at the Education Writers Association, Betsy DeVos chose a less sympathetic audience.

In her prepared remarks for Monday’s speech, DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education, emphasizes freedom from government as the foundation of her strategy. You’ll remember that DeVos is responsible for administering government programs like Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that support K-12 public education across the Unite States. Her department’s Office for Civil Rights is also responsible for investigating reported violations of students’ civil rights in public schools.

DeVos went to the Education Writers Association to explain: “I entered public life to promote policies that empower all families.  Notice that I said, ‘families,’ not government.  It should surprise no one that I am a common-sense conservative with a healthy distrust of centralized government.  Instead, I trust the American people to live their own lives and to decide their own destinies. That’s a freedom philosophy.”

DeVos is not a believer in taxes, and in fact she seems to disbelieve there is any kind of endeavor for which people might agree to share some of their privately earned money for a public purpose. At the Education Writers Association she explained: “I see the term ‘public money.’ And I’m reminded of something another education secretary often said.  Margaret Thatcher said that government ‘has no source of money other than the money people earn themselves.’  There is no such thing as ‘public money,’ The Iron Lady was right.”

DeVos continues, introducing her newest proposal.  She has asked Congress to create Education Freedom Scholarships—a tuition tax credit program to create private school tuition neo-vouchers: “Our proposal allows people to direct money they themselves have earned. They will voluntarily contribute to non-profit organizations that provide scholarships to students. It’s a much more effective and efficient way of getting resources to students who need them the most.” Of course, DeVos leaves out of her remarks that her proposal, if Congress were ever to pass it, would redirect $5 billion a year out of the federal treasury to support parental school choice.

On Monday, DeVos discouraged the education journalists in her audience from carefully exploring the nuances of the various school privatization schemes she promotes.  She said:  “(L)et’s get the terminology right about schools and school choice. Charter schools are public schools. Vouchers are not tax-credits nor are they tax-deductions nor education savings accounts nor 529 accounts. There are many different mechanisms that empower families to choose the education that’s right for their children.  And they are just that: mechanisms.”

She concludes her remarks by presuming to re-define public education itself: “(L)et’s stop and rethink the definition of public education. Today, it’s often defined as one-type of school funded by taxpayers, controlled by government. But if every student is part of ‘the public,’ then every way and every place a student learns is ultimately of benefit to ‘the public.’ That should be the new definition of public education.”

When we think about it, of course, we discover some things missing from Betsy DeVos’s definition. Justice has never been about isolated individuals; it is always about the rights of individuals as they bind themselves together to form a society. Our society is anchored by the laws to which we have agreed through the democratic process. Today the law guarantees that all students must be admitted in public schools which are required to protect their rights by law and to ensure programming to serve their needs. Historically the law has provided the framework by which, in a democratic and transparent system, we have been able to insist on better services for vulnerable families who were historically left out.  Advocacy for enforcement by law is why California has once again begun providing bilingual education after extremists shut down those programs a quarter century ago and instituted English only. Advocacy for enforcement of the law is what forced states to stop de jure school segregation after 1954. In the past decade, advocacy for enforcement of the law has brought protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students in public schools.

The National Education Policy Center’s Bill Mathis describes the history of our traditional understanding of the importance of public schooling: “For our first 200 years, the paramount purpose for building and sustaining universal public education was to nurture democracy. Written into state constitutions, education was to consolidate a stew of different languages, religious affiliations, ethnic groups and levels of fortune into a working commonwealth. As Massachusetts’ constitutional framers wrote, ‘Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, (is) necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties….In the nineteenth century, Horace Mann, father of the common schools movement, said, ’Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin is the great equalizer of the conditions of men – the balance-wheel of the social machinery.’ Through the twentieth century, the popular view was that universal education would produce an equal and democratic society.”

In more technical language in his new book, Education Inequality and School Finance, Rutgers University education economist Bruce Baker confronts DeVos’s confusion about the public purpose of investing public tax dollars : “The ‘money belongs to the child’ claim… falsely assumes that the only expenses associated with each individual’s education choices are the current annual expenses of educating that individual…. It ignores entirely marginal costs and economies of scale, foundational elements of origins of public institutions.  We collect tax dollars and provide public goods and services because it allows us to do so at an efficient scale of operations… Public spending does not matter only to those using it here and now. These dollars don’t just belong to parents of children presently attending the schools, and the assets acquired with public funding… do not belong exclusively to those parents.” (Education Inequality and School Finance, p. 30)

In a 2007 book, Consumed, the late political philosopher Benjamin Barber explores how privatization benefits the powerful and the privileged and exacerbates inequality and oppression: “Privatization is a kind of reverse social contract: it dissolves the bonds that tie us together into free communities and democratic republics. It puts us back in the state of nature where we possess a natural right to get whatever we can on our own, but at the same time lose any real ability to secure that to which we have a right. Private choices rest on individual power… personal skills… and personal luck.  Public choices rest on civic rights and common responsibilities, and presume equal rights for all. Public liberty is what the power of common endeavor establishes, and hence presupposes that we have constituted ourselves as public citizens by opting into the social contract. With privatization, we are seduced back into the state of nature by the lure of private liberty and particular interest; but what we experience in the end is an environment in which the strong dominate the weak… the very dilemma which the original social contract was intended to address.” (Consumed, pp. 143-144)

On Monday, Betsy DeVos asked the education journalists to stop using her as clickbait. But there is no way journalists can stop Betsy DeVos from being clickbait. Her belief system is an utter contradiction to the position she holds.  Today a person who does not believe in government’s role for providing public education heads up the federal government’s department responsible for overseeing the nation’s public schools. And after two years on the job, the U.S. Secretary of Education insists on traveling around the country broadcasting her intention to undermine the very institution for which she is responsible. The irony is so outrageous that everybody pays attention. Every time she speaks, our minds all immediately travel back to high school civics as we try to figure out how she gets it so wrong.

How delightful for me as a blogger.  I can create a serious civics lesson about the public purpose of public education, and, merely by putting our U.S. Secretary of Education’s name in the headline, I can get people to click on it .

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Can We Hold onto Our Values As We Struggle to Survive in the Trump-DeVos Holding Pattern?

I was dismayed recently when I sat down to read some excellent proposals for addressing child poverty in the United States.

Here are two alternative proposals from the National Academy of Sciences. Both are prescriptions for cutting our national child poverty rate in half within a decade. Each proposal would combine a different set of policy strategies; each combination of ingredients would achieve the same very laudable result:

  1. “Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit along the phase-in and flat portions; convert the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to a fully refundable tax credit and concentrate its benefits to families with children with the lowest incomes; increase the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 35 percent…; and expand the supply of Section 8 Housing… Vouchers to supply affordable housing for 70 percent of eligible families.””
  2. “Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit by 40 percent; convert the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to a fully refundable tax credit and concentrate its benefits to families with children with the lowest incomes; replace the Child Tax Credit with a monthly child allowance of $225 per month…; establish a new child support assurance program that provides a minimum payment of $100 per month per child; increase the federal minimum wage to $10.25 per hour… and index it to inflation; and restore program eligibility for non-qualified legal immigrants for Medicaid, SNAP… TANF…, SSI, and other benefits.”

I am sure that, if the people at the National Academy of Sciences who wrote the report say so, either of these prescriptions on its own would cut child poverty in half within the decade. My despair when I look at these plans, however, is that today there is an utter absence of national political will to ensure that Congress would move on any one of the specifics, let alone any combination of them.

Nor do I have any hope that even well-informed people on the street could possibly get a handle on what all these programs are and how they would work together to help our children. We need leaders who can help us understand what each of these programs is, how they would fit together, and—most important—why they matter.  And for those of us who care about the future of education, we need to be reminded that child poverty—not failing public schools—is what threatens the future of too many of our children.

Our collective ignorance about what such programs are and how they would help our children is particularly worrisome today, because the best we can look for is to be trapped in a holding pattern right now.  It is dangerous that we are forgetting the very tools that someday may help us address child poverty. We are obligated today merely to be grateful when things are not quickly getting worse.

In the area of K-12 public education—which directly affects 50 million of our children—President Trump’s education budget proposal flat-funds Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These are the huge formula programs that help schools serve children in poverty and children with disabilities. The President’s proposed budget also flat-funds Head Start.  For two years now, Congress has agreed to maintain these programs, and there is some assurance Congress will continue to do so. (House Democrats recently proposed adding $4.4 billion to the FY 2020 federal budget for education, including an increase in Title I, although any House education budget is unlikely to be approved by the Republican-dominated Senate.)  We must find ourselves grateful for the preservation of the status quo, even though all this flat-funding means the programs are falling behind in inflation-adjusted dollars.

On Sunday, the Washington Post‘s Laura Meckler described today’s holding-pattern in stark terms.  What she portrays is a crisis in leadership and values, not merely a paucity of programs. In a profile about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Meckler assures us that DeVos has emerged as among the few survivors in Trump’s Cabinet: “(‘T)he president shows no signs of asking her to resign, reflecting in part his lack of interest in the issue of education and the department responsible for it… This account of DeVos’s endurance in the Education Department’s top job is based on interviews with eight people with direct knowledge of the secretary’s relationship with the president and with an understanding of the inner workings of the White House and education agency… DeVos has benefited from Trump’s lack of interest in education, officials say… Also bolstering DeVos’s standing: She hasn’t had a single personal scandal. She’s a billionaire and travels by private plane, but she pays for it herself. She donates her salary to charity. Even detractors say that in person, DeVos is pleasant and easy to be around.”

We have a President who doesn’t care about education, and we can extrapolate: a President who doesn’t care about children.  Fortunately Congress has refused to go along with an ideological agenda that features education as an exercise in individual freedom, privatization, and marketplace choice.  We have to be grateful for the holding pattern even as we worry about the plight of poor children.

At the same time those of us concerned about a crisis in urban public schools also know that school achievement is affected by factors in the lives of children outside school. The National Education Policy Center’s Kevin Welner and researcher Julia Daniel delineate many of the primary challenges for children that threaten their engagement with school: “(W)e need to step back and confront an unpleasant truth about school improvement. A large body of research teaches us that the opportunity gaps that drive achievement gaps are mainly attributable to factors outside our schools: concentrated poverty, discrimination, disinvestment, and racially disparate access to a variety of resources and employment opportunities…  Research finds that school itself has much less of an impact on student achievement than out-of-school factors such as poverty.  While schools are important… policymakers repeatedly overestimate their capacity to overcome the deeply detrimental effects of poverty and racism… (S)tudents in many… communities are still rocked by housing insecurity, food insecurity, their parents’ employment insecurity, immigration anxieties, neighborhood violence and safety, and other hassles and dangers that can come with being a low-income person of color in today’s United States.”

These are, of course, the problems the National Academy of Sciences suggests we can address with either of their prescribed mixtures of policy investments. Nobody in this holding pattern of Trump Times, however, has been able to frame poignantly our public responsibility for addressing the needs of what First Focus identifies as 13 million children living in poverty today in the United States. Good leadership is desperately needed to develop the political will in a society barely coping with an executive branch gone mad.  As the Mueller report and its implications wash over us, at a time when our president foments hatred at the southern border, and in a society driven more and more by individualism and entrepreneurship, can we recover some kind of commitment to the public good and our collective obligation to our society’s children?

Here are some values we ought to be thinking about.

The late Benjamin Barber describes today’s realities for children and their schools—a reality that has grown more serious than it was when he wrote these words in 1998: “In many municipalities, schools have become the sole surviving public institutions and consequently have been burdened with responsibilities far beyond traditional schooling. Schools are now medical clinics, counseling centers, vocational training institutes, police/security outposts, drug rehabilitation clinics, special education centers, and city shelters… Among the costs of public schools that are most burdensome are those that go for special education, discipline, and special services to children who would simply be expelled from (or never admitted into) private and parochial schools or would be turned over to the appropriate social service agencies (which themselves are no longer funded in many cities.)  It is the glory and the burden of public schools that they cater to all of our children, whether delinquent or obedient, drug damaged or clean, brilliant or handicapped, privileged or scarred. That is what makes them public schools.” (“Education for Democracy,” in A Passion for Democracy: American Essays, pp. 226-227)

John Dewey names the principle that has traditionally grounded our society’s commitment to the well being of our children and their public education: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children… Only by being true to the full growth of all the individuals who make it up, can society by any chance be true to itself.” (The School and Society, 1899, p. 1)

Over the past year, there was one public outcry on behalf of children that was loud enough to overcome the inertia of just trying to hold on for two more years.  Thank you teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Denver, Los Angeles, and Oakland for your walkouts—state by state and district by district.  You who spend your days in our public schools helped us see the damage being imposed on children by huge classes along with the absence of counselors, school nurses, social workers and librarians. And you reminded citizens in many states that their taxes are needed as a public obligation to support their children and to keep a well-qualified and experienced staff of teachers in the public schools that serve their children.

There was also one simple public protest that may point to a strategy for changing the conversation. Before the 2018 election for governor of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools supplied thousands of parents statewide with very simple yard signs that said: “I Love My Public Schools and I Vote.” Without sinking into the policy weeds, the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools very plainly confronted and replaced Scott Walker’s years-long agenda to privatize and otherwise undermine public schools. Perhaps a wave of yard signs helped reframe the agenda: Tony Evers, the state school superintendent, defeated Walker and now serves as Wisconsin’s governor.

High School Students Stand Up for Press Freedom and Public Education

A society’s public institutions reflect the strengths and also the faults and sins of the culture they embody. For this reason, America’s public schools that serve over 50 million children in every kind of community will never be perfect. There will be instances of mediocrity and examples of poor school administration and poor teaching. There will be schools stuck in the past and schools where there is sexism and racism—schools where poor children aren’t served up the kind of curriculum that rich children are offered—schools where families persist in segregating their children from others who are “not like them.”  We must expose the problems in our schools and surely, as a society, we are obligated to address our schools’ faults and problems.

But something else has happened in America as we have permitted advocates for privatization to capture our national imagination. How did so many come to view public schools as a problem?  How did we accept the terms “failing schools” and “failing teachers”?  How did we allow policymakers in our very unequal society to extol privately operated schools as a solution?  The education writer and UCLA professor of education, Mike Rose, demands that we be more discerning as we confront the “failing schools” conventional wisdom: “Citizens in a democracy must continually assess the performance of the public institutions.  But the quality and language of that evaluation matter.” (Why School? p. 203)

After he spent four years visiting public school classrooms across the United States—urban schools, rural schools, Midwestern, Eastern, Western, Southern and border schools, and after observing hundreds of public school teachers from place to place, Rose celebrated the schools he had visited in a wonderful book, Possible Lives: “One tangible resource for me evolved from the journey through America’s public school classrooms. Out of the thousands of events of classroom life that I witnessed, out of the details of the work done there—a language began to develop about what’s possible in America’s public sphere.” In the book’s preface, Rose reflects on the learning moments he witnessed during his journey: “The public school gives rise to these moments in a common space, supports them, commits to them as a public good, affirms the capacity of all of us, contributes to what a post-Revolutionary War writer called the ‘general diffusion of knowledge’ across the republic. Such a mass public endeavor creates a citizenry. As our notion of the public shrinks, the full meaning of public education, the cognitive and social luxuriance of it, fades. Achievement is still possible, but it loses its civic heart.” (Possible Lives, p. xxviii)  Later in the book, Rose continues: “When public education itself is threatened, as it seems to be threatened now—by cynicism and retreat, by the cold rapture of the market, by thin measure and the loss of civic imagination—when this happens, we need to assemble what the classroom can teach us, articulate what we come to know, speak it loudly, hold it fast to the heart.” (Possible Lives, p. 433)

These days most of us do not have the kind of experience Rose acquired in four years of visiting public schools. Schools have been forced to worry about security and to lock kids safely in their classrooms. Most of us might think of what happens at school—if we think about it at all—only as we remember our own experiences, good and bad.

But sometimes, evidence of what students are learning finds its way outside the school and into the press. It happened last week in Lexington, Kentucky when U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos came to town to participate in a roundtable conversation with Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, who made a name for himself last year supporting a bill undermining teachers’ pensions.

At the roundtable conversation, Governor Bevin and Secretary DeVos were slated to discuss her new proposal for a $5 billion federal tuition tax credit, a plan that would divert federal tax dollars to pay for private school vouchers. There is no expectation that Congress will adopt DeVos’s new proposal for the tax credit plan she calls “Education Freedom Scholarships,” but she has been on-tour promoting her idea. We can presume she expected a sympathetic ear from Gov. Matt Bevin. Last year Kentucky’s teachers went out on strike to protest his education policies, and this year they have been staging sick-outs to protest several bills in the state legislature—one of them to set up a statewide private school voucher program. All year Bevin has been on the attack against the state’s public school teachers. Covering Bevin’s re-election campaign, Fox News describes Bevin’s political future as threatened by his persistent attacks on schoolteachers.

Governor Bevin’s roundtable conversation with Betsy DeVos might not have been widely noticed, covered as it was supposed to be by a group of invited journalists, but the members of the editorial board of the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School’s Lamplighter, a public high school newspaper, received permission to leave school to cover the 11:00 AM event.  Despite “PRESS” identification tags, they were turned away at the door because they were unable to present one of the special invitations.  Instead of covering the event, the high school journalists did some thinking and some research, and penned a scathing high school newspaper editorial demonstrating not only the quality of their public school training as journalists but also their education in civics along with considerable curiosity about the meaning of their experience trying to cover what should have been a public event.

The Lamplighter editorial, No Seat at the Roundtable, and its high school authors became the subject of Monday’s Washington Post, Morning Mix column: “Unable to document the event, or query DeVos in person, they set about investigating the circumstances of her private appearance at the public community college. Ultimately, they penned an editorial flaying the education secretary and the Kentucky governor, accusing them of paying lip service to the needs of students while excluding them from the conversation.”

In their editorial, the students describe what happened as they encountered the guard at the entrance to the meeting they had set out to cover. Notice the role of the students’ journalism teacher and advisor to help them explore and plan their actions: “We presented our school identification badges and showed him our press credentials. He nodded as if that would be enough, but then asked us if we had an invitation.  We looked at each other, eyes wide with surprise. Invitation? For a roundtable discussion on education? ‘Yes, this event is invitation only,’ he said and then waved us away.  At this point, we pulled over and contacted our adviser, Mrs. Wendy Turner. She instructed us to try again and to explain that we were there as press to cover the event for our school newspaper. We at least needed to understand why were were not allowed in, and why it was never publicized as ‘invitation only.’  We watched as the same man waved other drivers through without stopping them, but he stopped us again.  Instead of listening to our questions, he just repeated, ‘Sorry.  It’s invitation only.’… We scrambled to get ourselves together because we were caught off guard, and we were in a hurry to produce anything we could to cover the event and to meet our deadline… After more research, we found mentioned on the government website that the meeting needed an RSVP, but there was no mention of an invitation.  How do you RSVP when there is no invitation?  On the web site, it also stated that the roundtable was an ‘open press event.'”

The Lamplighter‘s editors continue: “Doesn’t ‘open press’ imply ‘open to ALL press’ including students? We are student journalists who wanted to cover an event in our community featuring the Secretary of Education, but ironically we couldn’t get in without an invitation… Why was this information (the press notice about the meeting the next day) only shared a little more than 24 hours before the event?  When the Secretary of Education is visiting your city, you’d think you’d have a little more of a heads up.  We can’t help but suspect that the intention was to prevent people from attending.  Also, it was held at 11 AM on a Wednesday.  What student or educator is free at that time?  And as students, we are the ones who are going to be affected by the proposed changes discussed at the roundtable, yet we were not allowed inside.  How odd is that, even though future generations of students’ experiences could be based on what was discussed, that we, actual students, were turned away? We expected the event to be intense. We expected there to be a lot of information to cover. But not being able to exercise our rights under the First Amendment was something we never thought would happen.  We weren’t prepared for that.”

Before they wrote their editorial, the student journalists did more work to track the story: “We emailed FCPS (Fayette County Public Schools) Superintendent Manny Caulk to ask if he had been invited, and he answered that he had not.  Of the 173 school districts in Kentucky that deal directly with students, none were represented at the table. Zero. This is interesting because the supposed intention of the event was to include stakeholders—educators, students, and parents.  Fayette County School Board member Tyler Murphy even took to his Twitter to satirize the lack of time DeVos and Bevin took to visit local public school educators. When we reached out to him via email to explain what we experienced, he responded: ‘If Secretary DeVos wanted a true understanding of our public schools, she should hear from the people who participate in it every day.'”

The students also followed up with journalists who were admitted to the event.  They explore in some detail comments reported in the local press about the event from Kentucky Commissioner of Education, Wayne Lewis, someone who endorses DeVos’s proposed federal tuition tax credit voucher proposal. They also report that one high school student attended the roundtable—a scholarship student from Mercy Academy, a Louisville religious high school. This student is quoted in the Lamplighter report: “I was the only student at the table and I was invited because of a scholarship program I was a part of in Louisville.”

The student journalists conclude their editorial: “The bottom line is that we do not think that it is fair to have a closed roundtable about education when it affects thousands of Kentucky teachers, students, and parents.”

The reporter for the Washington-Post‘s Morning Mix, Isaac Stanley-Becker comments on the students’ experience and the way they responded as journalists: “As their travails became the story, the students began to see the terms of the event as emblematic of the approach of the education secretary, who has been criticized as displaying only cursory understanding of the subjects in her remit… Still, they sounded an optimistic note.  Though they were unable to gain the experience they had set out to acquire, they had learned a lesson nonetheless. ‘We learned that the job of a journalist is to chase the story by any means necessary… We learned to be resourceful and meet our deadline even if it wasn’t in the way we initially intended. And we learned that although students aren’t always taken seriously, we have to continue to keep trying to have a seat at the table.'”

The public high school newspaper editors of the Lamplighter exemplify education theorist Henry Giroux’s idea of the value of quality, universal public education. Commenting on the importance of what striking public school teachers—from West Virginia to Oklahoma to Kentucky to Los Angeles and Oakland—have been trying to protect, Giroux writes: “Public schools are at the center of the manufactured breakdown of the fabric of everyday life. They are under attack not because they are failing, but because they are public—a reminder of the centrality of the role they play in making good on the claim that critically literate citizens are indispensable to a vibrant democracy.”

Federal Charter Schools Program Wasted Nearly $36 Million on Ohio Schools That Never Opened or Soon Closed

Several weeks ago the Network for Public Education (NPE) released Asleep at the Wheel, a major report on the lack of accountability and subsequent waste and fraud in the federal Charter Schools Program. At the end of last week as part of a letter addressed to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (and published by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post), Carol Burris the executive director of NPE, and Diane Ravitch began releasing state-by-state lists of never-opened or eventually shut-down charter schools that received seed money between 2006 and 2014 from the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). The numbers are shocking. In my state, Ohio, between 2006 and 2014, the amount of Charter Schools Program money spent on charter schools that never opened or eventually closed amounts to nearly $36 million.

Here is a brief review of the Network for Public Education’s findings in last month’s Asleep at the Wheel report.  A series of federal administrations—Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump have treated the Charter Schools Program (part of the Office of Innovation and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education) as a kind of venture capital fund created and administered to stimulate social entrepreneurship—by individuals or big nonprofits or huge for-profits—as a substitute for public operation of the public schools. Since the program’s inception in 1994, the CSP has awarded $4 billion in federal tax dollars to start up or expand charter schools across 44 states and the District of Columbia, and has provided some of the funding for 40 percent of all the charter schools across the country. The CSP has lacked oversight since the beginning, and during the Obama and Trump administrations—when the Department of Education’s own Office of Inspector General released a series of scathing critiques of the program—grants have been made based on the application alone with little attempt by officials in the Department of Education to verify the information provided by applicants. The Network for Public Education found that the CSP has spent over a $1 billion on schools that never opened or were opened and subsequently shut down: “The CSP’s own analysis from 2006-2014 of its direct and state pass-through funded programs found that nearly one out of three awardees were not currently in operation by the end of 2015.”

I suppose the idea is that if you scatter hundreds of seeds across a state, they’ll grow and enrich the educational environment.  But as I examine Ohio’s list of failed or never-opened, CSP-funded charter schools, I can see that the seeds were scattered so widely that they weren’t particularly noticeable even when they came up. Unless there was a splashy scandal or a school was widely advertised on the side of city buses, nobody would have had any idea of the existence or failure of most of the seeds that did come up. And anyway a lot of them never sprouted at all.  Because the Charter Schools Program has lacked oversight from the U.S. Department of Education and because Ohio’s charter schools are poorly regulated by a large number of nonprofit agencies that serve as sponsors, the Ohio press has—until NPE’s Asleep at the Wheel report—not to my knowledge reported that the U.S. Department of Education is funding a lot of failed or never-opened schools. Until now, the failure of this program has been virtually invisible.

In the the list of failed or never-opened Ohio charter schools released last Friday by the Network for Public Education, NPE reports: “Two hundred ninety-three Ohio charter schools were awarded grants through the U.S. Department of Education’s (U.S. DOE) Charter Schools Program (CSP) from money that the U.S. Department of Education gave to the states between 2006-2014.  At this time, at least 117 (40%) of those (Ohio) charter schools were closed or never opened at all.” NPE explains that 20 of the Ohio charter schools on the list never opened; ninety-seven of the Ohio charter schools receiving CSP grants opened but subsequently shut down.

I suspect that like me, hardly anybody in Ohio has heard of most of the 20 schools that received CSP funding but never opened. Here are their names: Academy for Urban Solutions; Buckeye Academy; Central Ohio Early College Academy; Cleveland Arts and Literature Academy; Cleveland Lighthouse Charter Community School West; Columbus Entrepreneurial Academy; Cuyahoga Valley Academy; Medina City Schools Technology School; New Albany School for Performing Arts Middle School 6-8; Phoenix Village Academy Secondary 2; Rising Star Elementary School; School of Tomorrow; Summit Academy Community Schools in Alliance, Marion, Massillon, Columbus, and Cincinnati; Technology and Arts Academy of Cleveland; Vision into Action Academy-South Columbus; and WinWin Academy.  It is difficult to tell from the names of most of these schools even where it was intended that they would be located.

Ninety-seven CSP-funded schools in Ohio have shut down, but from the list, it is not possible to discern whether they were shut down by their sponsors for conflicts of interest or fraud, or whether their sponsors determined they were failing their students academically, or whether they just went broke. Most of the CSP grants awarded to closed or never-opened schools were in the six figure range—$150,000 or more.  Two of the schools that failed or were never opened had been awarded CSP grants over $700,000; three had been granted between $600,000 and $700,000; two had received between $500,000 and $600,000; and 25 had been awarded between $400,000 and $500,000.

The federal Charter Schools Program is neoliberal by design.  It awards public funding to private operators—individuals and companies—to run schools in competition with the traditional public schools. One primary problem with the CSP along with other schemes to privatize the public schools is that oversight is lacking to protect the rights of the students and to protect the stewardship of tax dollars.

The late political philosopher, Benjamin Barber explains that lack of oversight, absence of transparency, waste and fraud are predictable when public programs and services are privatized: “It is the peculiar toxicity of privatization ideology that it rationalizes corrosive private choosing as a surrogate for the public good. It enthuses about consumers as the new citizens who can do more with their dollars and euros and yen than they ever did with their votes. It associates the privileged market sector with liberty as private choice while it condemns democratic government as coercive…  Privatization is a kind of reverse social contract: it dissolves the bonds that tie us together into free communities and democratic republics. It puts us back in the state of nature where we possess a natural right to get whatever we can on our own, but at the same time lose any real ability to secure that to which we have a right. Private choices rest on individual power… personal skills… and personal luck.  Public choices rest on civic rights and common responsibilities, and presume equal rights for all. Public liberty is what the power of common endeavor establishes, and hence presupposes that we have constituted ourselves as public citizens by opting into the social contract. With privatization, we are seduced back into the state of nature by the lure of private liberty and particular interest; but what we experience in the end is an environment in which the strong dominate the weak… the very dilemma which the original social contract was intended to address.” (Consumed, pp. 143-144)

The new Ohio report released last Friday by the Network for Public Education documents that between 2006 and 2014, Ohio charter schools were awarded $35,926,693 from the federal Charter Schools Program, money that disappeared when the intended recipient schools never opened or eventually shut down. The entire scheme has lacked oversight at both federal and state levels and entirely lacked transparency.  Most of us in Ohio were aware neither of the operation of this federal program nor its propensity to fund experiments that failed to serve Ohio’s children.

In last Friday’s letter to Betsy DeVos, Burris and Ravitch also share reports on schools that never opened or were soon shut down in Michigan, Louisiana, California, and Florida. They explain: “In the coming weeks, we will continue the process of identifying all of the closed and ‘ghost’ schools in every state, posting the names of those schools and issuing state reports.”

Congress Should Defund the Charter Schools Program and Invest the Money in Title I and IDEA

The Network for Public Education published its scathing report on the federal Charter Schools Program three weeks ago, but as time passes, I continue to reflect on its conclusions. The report, Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride, is packed with details about failed or closed or never-opened charter schools.  The Network for Public Education depicts a program driven by neoliberal politicians hoping to spark innovation in a marketplace of unregulated startups underwritten by the federal government. The record of this 25 year federal program is dismal.

Here is what the Network for Public Education’s report shows us. The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) has awarded $4 billion federal tax dollars to start or expand charter schools across 44 states and the District of Columbia, and has provided some of the funding for 40 percent of all the charter schools that have been started across the country. Begun when Bill Clinton was President, this neoliberal—publicly funded, privatized—program has been supported by Democratic and Republican administrations alike.  It has lacked oversight since the beginning, and during the Obama and Trump administrations—when the Department of Education’s own Office of Inspector General released a series of scathing critiques of the program—grants have been made based on the application alone with little attempt by officials in the Department of Education to verify the information provided by applicants.  Hundreds of millions of dollars have been awarded to schools that never opened or that were shut down: “We found that it is likely that as many as one third of all charter schools receiving CSP grants never opened, or opened and shut down.”  Many grants went to schools that illegally discriminated in some way to choose their students and served far fewer disabled students and English language learners than the local pubic schools.  Many of the CSP-funded charter schools were plagued by conflicts of interest profiteering, and mismanagement. The Department of Education has never investigated the scathing critiques of the program by the Department’s Office of Inspector Genera; neither has the Department of Education investigated the oversight practices of the state-by-state departments of education, called State Education Agencies by CSP, to which many of the grants were made. Oversight has declined under the Department’s leadership by Betsy DeVos.

One of the shocking findings in the Asleep at the Wheel report is that a series of federal administrations—Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump have treated this program as a kind of venture capital fund created and administered to stimulate social entrepreneurship—by individuals or big nonprofits or huge for-profits—as a substitute for public operation of the public schools. This use of the Charter Schools Program as a source for venture capital is especially shocking in the past decade under Presidents Obama and Trump, even as federal funding for essential public school programs has fallen. The Center on Budget and Policy priorities reports, for example, that public Title I formula funding dropped by 6.2 percent between 2008 and 2017.

The authors of the Network for Public Education’s Asleep at the Wheel report explain that the Department of Education itself justifies the high failure rate of schools receiving Charter Schools Program grants because the program’s purpose is to provide start-up money for entrepreneurs to experiment with innovative ideas for schools:  “CSP’s explanation for the high cost of failure was, ‘As with any start-up, school operators face a range of factors that may affect their school’s opening.  And as with any provider of start-up capital, the department learns from its investments.'”

Late in March, when the current Secretary of Education was questioned by members of the House Appropriations Committee about the findings in the Network for Public Education’s Asleep at the Wheel report, the Washington Post‘s Laura Meckler quotes Betsy DeVos herself justifying the high rate of charter school failure with an argument that basically the Charter Schools Program provides venture capital to support entrepreneurship and innovation: “When you have experimentation, you’re always going to have schools that don’t make it, and that’s what should happen.”

The Department of Education took a big leap toward support for social entrepreneurship (and diminished attention to the Department’s traditional programming) under the leadership of Arne Duncan, who served as Secretary of Education between 2009 and  December of 2015.  To lead the Department’s Office for Innovation and Improvement, Duncan hired Jim Shelton.  Before joining the department, Shelton had, according to a Department of Education biography, earned two master’s degrees from Stanford in business administration and education.  He developed computer systems, then joined McKinsey & Company in 1993 before moving to the education conglomerate founded by Mike and Lowell Milken, Knowledge Universe, Inc.  In 1999, he founded LearnNow, later acquired by Edison Schools and then worked for Joel Klein to develop and launch his school strategy in New York City that closed public schools and opened more and more charter schools.  He became a partner in the NewSchools Venture Fund and then in 2003 joined the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as the program director for its education division.

To be hired at the U.S. Department of Education, Shelton had to be waivered from a federal law that bans people from moving into governmental positions in which they will work directly with their former employer.  In Shelton’s case, the danger was not that he would shower his former employer with federal government largesse, but instead that he would import the priorities and practices of his former employer—the Gates Foundation—directly into government. Shelton oversaw not only the Charter Schools Program but also Race to the Top, which made large federal stimulus grants to states, which had each been given (by the Gates Foundation) a quarter of a million dollars apiece to hire grant writers to develop creative ways to invest federal stimulus money to support the turnaround of so-called failing schools. To qualify, the states had to agree to Duncan’s prescribed turnaround plans and also promise to remove caps on the authorization of new charter schools. There is now widespread agreement that Race to the Top failed to fulfill its stated goal of improving school achievement. After leaving the department, Duncan and Shelton both continued their careers in grant-funded social entrepreneurship; at least their work has no longer been publicly funded. Shelton ran education programming for the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, and Duncan has been working for Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective.

Meanwhile, Betsy DeVos now leads the U.S. Department of Education, and her leadership has further reduced oversight, according to the Asleep at the Wheel report: “Under the current administration, while Congressional funding for the CSP rises, the quality of the applications and awardees has further declined.”

The Charter Schools Program is the only one of DeVos’s school privatization initiatives whose budget Congress has increased.  The Network for Public Education traces its funding history: “The program was appropriated at $219 million in 2004.  The budget went up to $256 million in 2010, $333 million in 2016, then to $342 million in 2017, $400 million in 2018 and is now at $440 million for FY 2019.”  In his proposed FY 2020 budget, President Trump has asked Congress to add another $60 million.

When Organizations like the NewSchools Venture Fund or today’s mega-foundations experiment with educational innovation, the risk is underwritten by private capital or philanthropic grants from the Walton, Gates, or Broad Foundations, for example. And if the experiments fail, the money lost is private.  In the case of the federal Charter Schools Program, the Department of Education has been gambling with $4 billion of our tax dollars—money desperately needed by the public schools in our nation’s poorest communities—money that could have been invested, for example, in Title I for schools serving concentrations of poor children or in implementation of programs to meet the mandates of the IDEA.  At their inception, Congress promised to fund a significant part of the cost of both Title I and IDEA, but Congressional appropriations have chronically fallen short.  Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) has currently introduced the “Keep Our PACT Act,” which if passed would significantly increase the federal commitment to supporting federal these priorities. Van Hollen explains: “Title I, which gives assistance to America’s highest-need schools, is a critical tool to ensure that every child, no matter the zip code, has access to a quality education. However, it has been deeply underfunded, shortchanging our most vulnerable students living in poverty… (T)he Title I formula was underfunded by $347 billion from 2005-2017… Similarly, IDEA calls on the federal government to fund 40 percent of the cost of special education, but Congress has never fully funded the law. Currently, IDEA state grants are funded at just 14.7 percent.”

The Asleep at the Wheel report’s authors conclude: “The CSP’s grant approval process appears to be based on the application alone, with no attempt to verify the information presented.  Hundreds of schools have been approved for grants despite serious concerns noted by reviewers… The… lack of rigor and investigation in the review process, and the seeming willingness of the CSP program to offer grants despite concerns expressed by reviewers raise questions about whether this program is truly committed to jump-starting schools that hold the greatest promise of success, or whether simply letting 1,000 flowers bloom, and accepting the chaos and waste of repeated failure is really the operational model.”

For 25 years, the U.S. Department of Education has enabled, and Congress has funded, a failed, neoliberal, market-based, and unregulated charter school experiment.  In an article he published last spring, the McMaster University education theorist, Henry Giroux said it best: “Public schools are at the center of the manufactured breakdown of the fabric of everyday life. They are under attack not because they are failing, but because they are public….”

This blog has previously explored the Asleep at the Wheel report here and here.

DeVos’s Staff Blocked Researchers Trying to Investigate Federal Charter Schools Program

Writing this week for The Washingtonian, Rachel M. Cohen describes the responses of eighteen federal workers when she interviewed them about what it’s really like to work for the Trump administration.

Cohen quotes an anonymous staff person in Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education, someone who reflects on Departmental priorities these days and her own particular concern: “I definitely get the sense that the appointees don’t feel many functions of our agency are necessary anymore. Words like ‘regulatory overreach’ and ‘burdensome regulations’ come up a lot, and while it’s true sometimes oversight is burdensome, and ensuring efficacy and quality can feel like overreach, we give out a lot of money—and if we don’t maintain some standard for those funds, then we’re not doing our job.”

Apparently the politically appointed leadership at the U.S. Department of Education wasn’t happy when, on March 8, 2019, the Network for Public Education (NPE) tried to investigate federal oversight over one area of departmental funding by submitting a Freedom of Information Act request for documentation of routine regulation of the federal Charter Schools Program. Jeff Bryant is one of the researchers and writers of NPE’s new report, Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride.  In an article published this week at AlterNet, Bryant shares some simple research questions he submitted to the Department of Education and the outrageous response he received: “On March 15, I received a voicemail from an official in the public affairs division of the department asking me to call her back. The message started out nice enough but then veered toward criticism. ‘Apparently you have sent this request to multiple people,’ she said (emphasis original), ‘and that just creates havoc for everyone.’ When I immediately called her back, I explained I had merely sent my inquiry to the contacts provided on the relevant sections of the department’s website. ‘That’s understandable,’ she replied, but for ‘future reference’ I was told to send inquiries to ‘a director’—though I’m not sure who that is.  And I was told again my questions had ‘created havoc’ in the office but that department staff members were ‘working on it’ and would ‘take a few days.’ As of this writing, I’ve yet to receive any other replies.”  Perhaps Bryant sent his inquiry to the career staff listed on the Department’s website, but a politically appointed staff member exerted her power over the Department’s communications with the public.

Bryant supplies us with the innocuous enough request he sent on March 8, a set of routine questions that surely ought to have resulted in a clear answer from a functioning governmental department: “This is to inquire about the current grant application review process used for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities. Specifically, in 2015, the Department published an ‘Overview of the 2015 CSP SEA Review Process.’ My questions: (1) Can you provide a similar document describing how the grant review process is currently being conducted for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities? (2) If not, can you briefly comment on how the grant review process used for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities aligns with or varies from the Overview referenced above? (3) Regarding a ‘Dear Colleague‘ letter sent to State Education Agencies in 2015 emphasizing the importance of financial accountability for charter schools receiving federal dollars, was there any follow-up by the Charter Schools Program to ascertain how many SEAs complied with this request and what was the nature of the new systems and processes put into place by SEAs to provide for greater accountability?”

It is interesting to go back and read that 2015 “Dear Colleague” letter.  In the letter, two assistant general secretaries and an advisor to the program remind State Education Agencies (SEAs) of their role in helping the U.S. Department of Education to monitor the quality and fiscal responsibility of charter schools that had received federal money under the Charter Schools Program: “We write today to remind SEAs of your role in helping to ensure that Federal funds accessed by public charter schools are used for intended, appropriate purposes.  We also remind SEAs that the Department serves as an important resource to help with this important task… Although many charter schools are managed effectively and demonstrate promising results, the Department’s Office of Inspector General’s (OIG’s) recent semiannual reports to Congress have identified examples of conflicts of interest between charter schools and their management organizations, and examples of charter schools with problematic fiscal and management practices… SEAs should take steps to monitor and help correct poor management practices in charter schools.” Here are links to 2012, 2016, and 2018 U.S. Department of Education OIG condemnations of the management of the federal Charter Schools Program.

A little more history is also helpful.  The 2015, “Dear Colleague” letter was released during a period when the U.S. Department of Education was involved in reviewing the award the Department of Education had recently made of $71 million to Ohio (the department’s largest Charter Schools Program SEA grant in 2015) after it had been pointed out by critics in Ohio that David Hansen, then the director of funding and oversight of charter schools at the Ohio Department of Education, had lied when he wrote the grant application by omitting the low ratings of an entire sector of so-called “dropout recovery” charter schools in Ohio and implying that Ohio had already tightened its charter school regulations when in fact the Legislature was only in the process of considering proposed legislation for slightly improved charter oversight.  In November of that year, the U.S. Department of Education was shamed into delaying the $71 million award to Ohio, pending further review.  (In September of 2016, the Department of Education finally released the $71 million grant, but labeled Ohio “at risk” following a request from U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown for increased oversight of the $71 million grant to Ohio.)

Oversight of the federal Charter Schools Program matters for the communities and public school districts where the grants are awarded and for the children and families who will be affected by charter school expansion. And the amount of money in the federal awards to state education agencies and large charter school chains is significant. In its Asleep at the Wheel report, NPE reports that the federal Charter Schools Program, “was established in 1994 and over its 25-year existence, has funded as many as 40 percent of charter schools across the country… We estimate that approximately $4 billion federal tax dollars have been spent or allocated to start, replicate and expand charter schools.” “Hundreds of millions… have been awarded to charter schools that never opened or opened and then shut down.”

In his recent article, Jeff Bryant reminds us that poor management of the federal Charter Schools Program did not begin with Betsy DeVos: “It was under Arne Duncan’s watch that the federal charter grants program was greatly expanded, (and) states were required to lift caps on the number of charter schools in order to receive precious federal (Race to the Top) dollars… And most of the wanton charter fraud we detailed in our report that ran rampant during the Duncan years is now simply continuing under DeVos, with little to no explanation of why this is allowed to occur.” “This is not a partisan issue… Of course, any comparison between DeVos and Duncan can find some very big differences, but a constant throughout both administrations has been to ignore, wall-off, or obfuscate when confronted with any inquiry aimed at the federal government’s efforts to create and expand charter schools.” “It’s actually been endemic in the education policy world for years, particularly in how the federal government continues to hide its agenda to further privatize the nation’s public school system by creating and expanding charter schools.”

Meryl Johnson, who represents District 11 on the Ohio State Board of Education, will interview Diane Ravitch on Johnson’s weekly radio show, It’s About Justice (WRUW 91.1 FM) next Saturday, April 13, 2019 at from 1:00 PM until 2:00 PM.  The program will be live-streamed at  https://wruw.org/.

What Has Betsy DeVos Accomplished? Part I

The other day I had the opportunity to talk with a U.S. senator’s staffer who told me that opposition to the appointment of Betsy DeVos early in 2017 was unprecedented as measured by the number of calls—tens of thousands against DeVos’s confirmation and only three or four thousand in favor.  Those of us who made those calls and marched in the streets and made formal visits to the offices of our U.S. senators were terrified about what it would mean if one of the biggest opponents of our society’s system of public schools were confirmed to be the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Of course, DeVos was confirmed, but only after the Vice President, for the first time in history, was called in to break a tie on the Senate’s confirmation of a President’s appointee.

Now two years have passed.  So… how’s it going?

On Tuesday, DeVos went before the House Appropriations Committee to defend her department’s request in the President’s recently proposed fiscal year 2020 federal budget. This is Trump’s third annual budget proposal, and it declares DeVos’s values and priorities for the third consecutive year.

This week DeVos defended an education budget proposal that is $8.5 billion lower than last year’s allocation. She made no attempt to justify freezes to Title I and IDEA funding, and the elimination of several programs including the popular the 21st Century Learning Centers after-school program, along with Title II and Title IV grants to support professional development for teachers, smaller class sizes, and curricular enrichment—and even her department’s contribution to the Special Olympics.

DeVos’s comments at the recent hearing betray her lack of concern for the kind of improved classroom conditions striking teachers  have been demanding all year and her failure to care deeply about long running programs that help schools serve the needs of poor children and students with special needs. The Detroit Free Press‘s Todd Spangler quotes DeVos’s reasoning: “We are not doing our children any favors when we borrow from their future in order to invest in systems and policies that are not yielding better results.”

But until now, even an all-Republican Congress has refused to capitulate to DeVos’s K-12 agenda. While important programs like Title I and the IDEA have not received budgetary increases during DeVos’s tenure, at least Congress has maintained key programs—refusing DeVos’s cuts year after year.  The Washington Post‘s Laura Meckler adds that DeVos appeared relatively unfazed when the Democrats—now in the House majority—opposed her budget request.  Acknowledging that Congress has repeatedly repudiated her priorities, she told the House Appropriations Committee: “This reduction is similar to last year’s request, and the year before that, as well. I acknowledge that you rejected those recommendations.”

What about DeVos’s relentless attempts to privatize public education?

Every year, Trump’s budget has included DeVos’s idea for federal school vouchers. This this year the proposal is framed as a neo-voucher tuition tax credit. For two years, Republican-dominated Congresses refused to fund DeVos’s voucher requests for a federal school voucher program, and this year, with a Democratic House of Representatives, enactment of DeVos’s tuition tax credit is even less likely. Meckler quotes Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) dismissing DeVos’s proposed tuition tax credit scheme as, “an ‘unregulated, unaccountable tax scheme” “to fund private school vouchers.”

At the hearing, DeVos was asked about a new report condemning the federal Charter Schools Program. In the report, the Network for Public Education slams the Charter Schools Program for poor oversight and the waste or $4 billion on schools that never opened or suddenly shut down. DeVos scoffed at Committee members’ concern with a standard market-based defense: “When you have experimentation, you’re always going to have schools that don’t make it and that’s what should happen.”

In reality the Charter Schools Program is the one exception to DeVos’s utter failure to impose her privatization agenda. Congress has funded the Charter Schools Program—adding $40 million last year to bring the program’s total funding to $440 million. This year the proposed 2020 budget adds another $60 million. We’ll have to wait to see what Congress does about adding money to this unregulated program in FY 2020.

Apart from maintaining support for the Charter Schools Program, Betsy DeVos has failed to confirm the fears of those who thought she might be able radically to adopt the privatization agenda of the organizations she has previously supported with her philanthropy, groups like the American Federation of Children, EdChoice, and the Mackinac Center.

DeVos has done her best to transform our society’s public schools according to her personal ideology. She outlined her priorities in a 2017 speech to the American Legislative Exchange Council: “Choice in education is good politics because it’s good policy. It’s good policy because it comes from good parents who want better for their children. Families are on the front lines of this fight; let’s stand with them…“This isn’t about school ‘systems.’ This is about individual students, parents, and families. Schools are at the service of students. Not the other way around.”

Congress has chosen not to enact DeVos’s budgets that undermine our nation’s system of education by cutting key public school programs and priorities.  Neither has Congress adopted any of DeVos’s voucher schemes. While it is not a good thing for our public schools to be trapped in a mere holding pattern, Congress has at least protected the institution of public education for now.

Tomorrow in Part II of this report, we’ll examine the other part of DeVos’s record—on protecting students’ civil rights and the rights of students preyed on by for-profit colleges and trade schools.