Political Focus: Betsy DeVos tries to kill public education… again

The Trump administration will be supporting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ push for further integration of school of choice. DeVos and fellow Republican lawmakers Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) announced Thursday, Feb. 28 that they plan to propose federal tax credits for private school donors.

The proposal would authorize a 100 percent credit for contributions to any state-sanctioned scholarship fund. This means that donors could get back their entire donation through their federal taxes, to a maximum donation of 10 percent of a person’s income or 5 percent of a business’ income. When the senior Education Department official spoke to reporters before the announcement, he had been assured there were “multiple avenues” to make up the lost tax revenue, but did not name any.

This push for supporting private and charter schools has long been the primary issue championed by DeVos. Needless to say, the plan sounds similar to previous attempts at defunding public education by redirecting tax revenue to charter schools, similar to the voucher system.

This announcement comes at perhaps the worst time for DeVos and her Republican counterparts, as teacher strikes targeting low public school funding have been gaining traction, most recently in Oakland, Calif. but also occurring last year in Arizona and West Virginia. But even when Republicans had control of the House and Senate, they were unable to pass similar tax reforms.

The fact of the matter is the vast majority of public schools are underfunded, leading to decreased teacher salaries, crowded classrooms and insufficient student support systems. In Oakland, more than 20 percent of the Oakland Unified School District’s students attended private charter schools.

The need to support public education and abandon private schooling should resonate with most Michigan students, with Detroit Public Schools dealing with buildings that cannot hold themselves up and moldy books that were written during the Cold War. Even wealthier districts like Rochester Community Schools face budget cuts in important areas of the arts.

Proposals like DeVos’ would take already struggling school districts and cut them off at the knees. Education should have the highest budget of any government division, not put to the whims of the wealthiest donors. Monetarily hogtying education to individuals with their own agendas is a surefire way to increase the already huge wealth gaps in our nation.

If teachers picketing across the nation isn’t enough to sway public opinion, consider the students that would be affected. The Center for Public Education cites a Tennessee research project that statistically found that small class sizes are directly related to student achievement. A class size of no more than 18 students per teacher is required to produce the greatest benefits.

Before their teacher strikes, some classrooms in Los Angeles had upwards of 40 students, a number that is mirrored in Michigan school districts as well. My own father, a teacher in Utica Community Schools, has a class this semester of 43 students. It started at 45 before being lowered.

And privately funded schools can afford to have these smaller, 15-student classes, but of course, only if you are willing and able to pay for the exorbitant tuitions. No matter how many private donors come to the “aid” of education, they are not the answer. Public education is the best and only way to assure that every child in our country has the same opportunities to succeed.