DeVos Uses Education Grants to Undermine Public Schools and Further Her Agenda
The CARES Act committed over $2 trillion to help the American economy survive the destruction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One provision tucked away into the 335-page legislation may help change the way that pubic education is given throughout the country. This section of the CARES Act creates a $300 million grant program that is set aside for public schools to create innovative ways to create learning solutions in response to COVID-19. The results of these grants may create long-lasting educational programs that can persist even beyond the COVID-19 outbreak.
This money is going to go to the states so they can set up competitive grant programs for school districts within their borders. On April 27, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos began to roll out some of the details of the programs. She allocated $180 million to a program called "Rethink K-12 Education Models."
The Microgrants Are Overtly Aimed at Promoting School Choice
The grants are designed to expand the ways that students can access public education. The immediate prompt is the fact that schools across the country have been closed for the coronavirus. However, it is also part of the larger push to match public school education with some of the changing realities brought about by technology. The program consists of microgrants for students and parents to pay for connectivity to education and many other things. These grants total roughly $60 million.
The microgrants can even be used to pay for things such as private school tuition. Parents can use them to pay for textbooks and therapies. It is a broad program that can be bent to fit any one of a number of agendas.
The microgrant part of this aid program has proven to be controversial. The Department of Education has not limited the education to be accessed online only to public schools. Parents can use this money to access a private school education. Critics fear that this is a way for DeVos to promote private school educations. She has long aimed some of her efforts at public schools in disadvantaged areas, trying to undermine the schools as opposed to investing in them.
For the critics, these microgrants seem to resemble school vouchers. The Administration has already asked Congress to fund a school voucher program, but that request is going nowhere. Opposition to school vouchers is strong and may keep the program from ever becoming a reality. It is a pet program of conservatives and is highly controversial.
States Can Use Federal Money for Virtual Private Schools
In addition, these grants are allowing states to apply for money to create a virtual school. Where this breaks new ground is the fact that the virtual school can offer various options to students. They are not just limited to one public school, Instead, they can choose from public and other third-party providers. These can presumably include private schools as well. This is another way to use this money to promote a school choice agenda.
Critics are accusing DeVos of trying to take advantage of COVID-19 to weaken public school education in the U.S. DeVos has long been an opponent of the current public education model and has tried to make dramatic changes during her tenure. Now, they believe that she is using this situation to further her agenda by making changes that benefit her view.
These grants are a way of promoting the agenda of choice in public education. School choice has been DeVos' signature issue and is a flashpoint in the political debate about public education. Here, the key part of the program is the microgrants for students and parents that DeVos is pushing.
DeVos announced in a press release that the grants were part of her push to "rethink" public education. For many, this a code word for her push to dismantle the system. DeVos has previously called public schools a "dead end" and a "monopoly."
In the meantime, the Department of Education has proposed a complicated application process that features numerous formulas. Everything about this grant program seems to be confusing so that the true intent of the program gets buried in the details. The money may take some time to award and distribute and will end up being used after this crisis hopefully has passed. However, this is likely the intent of DeVos, who seems to want to use this money for personal policy preferences disguised as COVID-19 relief measures.
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