On Wednesday March 29, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, gave a thoughtful speech before the Brookings Institution. The speech was a substantive development in a week otherwise dominated by the ongoing investigation into the Trump administration, which—as it happens—is turning into an investigation of Democrat spying.
In her speech DeVos’s noted that, “parents know what is best for their kids. No parent should be denied the opportunity to send his or her son or daughter to a school with confidence that he or she can learn, grow and be safe.”
The sad fact is that many parents and their children are trapped in neighborhood public schools that do deny them these opportunities. Administrators and teacher unions consistently have failed to respond to their cries for responsibility and accountability. For example, in Chicago, the teacher’s union blocked measures parents and reformers wanted, preferring to keep things the way they were. But those ways have failed the city and her residents badly. According to the Illinois Policy Institute, “Forcing students to attend schools that routinely fail them is wrong and can leave scars that last well into the future. They need immediate relief, not broken promises about how things will change for the better five or 10 years down the road.”
Traditional public schools, and their state government clients, stand in the way of educational choice. As Donald Trump Jr. remarked during the Republican Convention, “our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class; now they’re stalled on the ground floor. They’re like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and the administrators and not the students.”
Many states have recognized that for some, another option is necessary. Many have opted to allow charter schools to fill the educational void. Charters are public schools held to the same standards as traditional public schools but, unlike the failing public schools, charters are subject to closure if they do not perform. In my own state of North Carolina, charter schools have outscored their traditional public school peers in 12 out of 13 demographic categories.
Increasingly, parents and state government officials in communities with a preponderance of minorities are supporting school choice. The Department of Education has heard their concerns and responded. In the proposed 2018 budget, the present administration has increased spending for charter and private school education.
DeVos noted in her speech that one parent understood the situation to be so dire that she had to act on her “inalienable right” to find her child an educational alternative providing an education in keeping with her dignity and nature as a human being. As many parents in poor communities are coming to realize, they need a choice if they hope to see their children escape the stranglehold foisted upon them by the traditional public school system. Freedom and liberty demand they have the option to help their children rise to the level of equality America, at her best, seeks to secure.