Trump's Cabinet

Get to know Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education known for her controversial support of school choice

Moriah Ratner | Staff Photographer

DeVos was narrowly confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Feb. 7, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie in the Senate.

Betsy DeVos, the United States secretary of education who assumed office earlier this month, is considered one of the more controversial cabinet members under President Donald Trump.

DeVos is known for her support of school choice, voucher programs and charter schools, ideals she has brought with her to the White House. She is the former chair of the Michigan Republican Party.

DeVos was narrowly confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Feb. 7, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie in the Senate. All Democrats and Independents, as well as two Republicans in the Senate, voted against confirming her.

The controversy over DeVos derives from her support of school choice through both school vouchers and charter schools. DeVos founded and formerly chaired the American Federation for Children, an organization she has used to promote vouchers and charter schools as well as support candidates who have done the same.

Charter schools are schools that receive government funding but operate independently of a given state’s public school system. Charter schools also often don’t have unionized teachers.

Proponents of charter schools say that the schools operate more effectively and create healthy competition without oversight from a district or government. Critics, though, argue that there is not proper accountability for charter schools and that the funding the schools receive takes resources away from conventional public schools.

More than 6,000 charter schools currently operate in the U.S., according to U.S. News & World Report. They represented about 6 percent of the U.S. public school system as of the 2012-13 school year. The number of charter schools in the country has steadily risen over the years, per U.S. News & World Report.

In New York state, there are 295 total charter schools, according to the New York State Department of Education. More than half of those are elementary schools. In total, charter schools represent less than 5 percent of schools in the state.

The Syracuse area currently has two charter schools and a third will open for the 2017-18 school year.

School vouchers, meanwhile, are scholarships funded by states that parents can use to enroll their children at schools of their choice — even private schools.

Proponents of school vouchers argue that the vouchers make for free market competition by allowing parents to use the vouchers to send their children to the school of their choice. Critics, though, say that such competition will inevitably reduce the quality of public education.

Currently, school voucher programs exist in 14 states and there are more than 175,000 recipients of vouchers in those states, according to Ed Choice.

Vouchers first entered the U.S. in 1989, when Wisconsin passed the country’s first school voucher program for students from low-income households in Milwaukee. In 2011, Indiana created the nation’s first statewide school voucher program for low-income students.

Trump has already proposed a $20 billion school voucher program for children living in poverty. The program would work as a block grant that could give children in poverty the option of attending private and charter schools.

When announcing the proposal in September, Trump said the program would be funded by redirecting existing federal funds, according to Politico, though he didn’t say which federal programs might lose funding. He also said states would get to determine how to use the grants but added that he would advise them to allow students to use the vouchers to attend schools of their choice, according to The Washington Post.

“I’m proposing a plan to provide school choice to every disadvantaged student in America,” Trump said, according to The Washington Post.

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