Betsy DeVos believes charter schools and vouchers will improve education—but will they?
The express commitment of the incoming Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, to expand school choice options for American schoolchildren has thrust charter schools and voucher programs to the fore of education debates in the U.S. Over the years the DeVos family charitable foundation has donated some $10 million to organizations promoting the school choice agenda, both through the expansion of charter schools and the introduction of school vouchers to allow students to spend public funds on any school that would take them, whether public or private. While in the United States, voucher programs remain rare (the voucher campaign the DeVos family supported in Michigan lost resoundingly), charter schools have many advocates and have gained a lot of traction in recent years.
The DeVos family is only one of many wealthy families promoting charter schools (and school vouchers) as antidotes to what they perceive as a failing public system.
Publicly funded, but privately managed, charter schools are so named because they negotiate charters with local school districts that specify agreements about requirements, funding, curriculum, and oversight. Many of the original charter schools were organized by parents in school districts who were dissatisfied with the education their children were receiving. Today, school districts may sponsor an expanded role for charter schools by encouraging charter school expansion and making funds available to those who wish to run them.
The DeVos family is only one of many wealthy families promoting charter schools (and school vouchers) as antidotes to what they perceive as a failing public system. Large, politically conservative foundations, including the Walton Foundation (from the Walmart stores fortune), the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Adolph Coors Foundation, have poured millions of dollars into promoting charter schools, as have a number of billionaire hedge fund managers. All claim that they are trying to provide options for families, but many suspect that the real motive of many advocates is to shrink the public sector in every sphere, including education. Over the last three decades, many large school districts, faced with depressing student performance results, have expanded charter school options, including in cities like Cleveland, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.