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Democrats Decry Betsy DeVos' Move to Prioritize 'Privatization'

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The leading Democrats on K-12 issues in Congress are not happy that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants to make school choice a top priority when it comes to doling out federal grant money on a competitive basis.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., say that the move would help DeVos further "privatization" of public schools, without congressional approval. Earlier this year, lawmakers rejected Trump administration budget proposals to create a new voucher program and let some federal money follow students to the public school of their choice. (Murray is the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, while Scott holds the same position on the House education committee.)

On Wednesday, DeVos released a draft list of her priorities for doling out at least $700 million in federal grant money. At the top of the list? "Empowering Families to Choose a High-Quality Education that Meets Their Child's Unique Needs."

Specifically, the department is looking to steer money to states, districts, and others who want to broaden educational options, including for special populations such as students in special education, English-language learners, and students in struggling schools. The department wants the money to help create or grow private-school vouchers, homeschooling, magnet schools, online education, apprenticeships, dual enrollment, and more. 

These competitive-grant priorities are one of the few levers DeVos has for expanding choice—her number one policy priority—without help from Congress. (DeVos also came up with ten other priorities, and you can read about them here.)

Here's what the lawmakers had to say: 

  • "Instead of listening to the millions of students, parents, and teachers who stood up against her extreme ideological agenda, her proposal will allow her to prioritize applicants that would siphon taxpayer funds away from the public schools that serve the vast majority of students," Murray said in a statement. "This is shameful and I urge Secretary DeVos to implement laws and award federal funding as Congress intended—not as she sees fit."
  • "Despite the lack of evidence proving the effectiveness of vouchers, the Secretary is proposing to divert taxpayer dollars to private schools and for-profit interests through the use of supplemental priorities," Scott said in a statement. "This is not aligned with the will of Congress nor taxpayers. I urge the Secretary to heed the advice of the overwhelming majority of Americans and prioritize investment in public schools and the students they serve."

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