Indianapolis, Ind. — Education secretary Betsy DeVos addressed a crowd of several hundred this evening at a national policy summit, introducing the basic elements of President Donald Trump’s proposed school-choice agenda, which she called the most ambitious in history. Her arrival in Indianapolis was greeted this evening by a group of anti–school choice protestors outside the conference venue.
Though she didn’t offer many policy specifics, DeVos noted that the president hopes to elevate the role of technology, offer a wide number of quality options to every family, and allow parents to play the primary role in determining what school options will work best for their child. She outlined a revised system that would give states greater control over their education funding and programs, in the hopes that more states would choose to expand school choice.
“This means we have the opportunity to get Washington and the federal bureaucracy out of the way so parents can make the right choices for their kids,” she added. States must “be held accountable, but they should be directly accountable to parents and communities, not to Washington, D.C., bureaucrats.”
DeVos called our current education system “a closed system that relies on one-size-fits-all solutions.” In contrast, she said, the administration’s new policies would give states and communities room to develop their own unique school-choice programs, bolstered by the federal government as needed.
“We won’t accomplish our goals by creating a new federal bureaucracy or by bribing states with their own taxpayers’ money,” DeVos said. “We should have zero interest in substituting the current big-government approach for our own big-government approach.”
DeVos emphasized her belief that education freedom should not be a partisan issue. “Everyone — in both parties — should support equal opportunity in education, regardless of a child’s income, zip code or family circumstances,” she said, noting that the nation’s first formal school-choice program emerged in Milwaukee as the result of the work of a Democratic councilwoman.
She insisted that the education-reform movement ought to focus on investing in students as individuals rather than in the buildings and systems that educate them: “It shouldn’t matter if learning takes place in a traditional public school, a Catholic school, a charter school, a non-sectarian private school, a Jewish school, a home school, a magnet school, an online school, any customized combination of those schools — or in an educational setting yet to be developed.”
DeVos was introduced tonight by Denisha Merriweather, a young woman from Florida who was profiled in National Review just a few months ago. Merriweather was able to attend a private school in Florida after receiving a tax-credit scholarship through the state’s Step Up for Students program, the largest of its kind in the country.
That scholarship allowed her to escape her neighborhood’s public schools — where she had failed out of third grade twice. Merriweather went on to graduate from high school and become the first in her family to graduate from college. Just this spring, she obtained a master’s degree in social work from the University of South Florida.
Tonight, DeVos offered several examples of other students who, like Denisha, desperately needed alternatives to the public-school system for a variety of reasons. All of those students were able to succeed as a result of states that allowed for education freedom, and according to DeVos, the Trump administration’s new school-choice agenda will give even more American children access to that freedom, too.