Betsy DeVos Should Know Robbing Peter to Pay Paul is a Sin in Education

Education budget could end proven programs in favor of perilous policies

President Trump’s full education budget cuts funding for college work-study programs in half, eliminates public-service loan forgiveness and takes away hundreds of millions of dollars that schools use for mental health services and advanced coursework in order to pay for one of his campaign promises – more school choice, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Trump and his besieged education secretary Betsy DeVos would rob Peter, the public schools, to pay the Paul of charter schools and vouchers. Specifically, the administration plans to spend approximately “$400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies,” the Post reports.

Work-study provides low-income students the opportunity of a part-time job that helps pay for school. By limiting work hours and offering many on-campus job options, work-study increases the likelihood of graduation and reduces indebtedness. Public-service loan forgiveness also reduces indebtedness that burdens low-income students while encouraging college graduates to seek jobs in areas of critical need, including education and public health.

It’s a budget that justifies the instincts of the Bethune-Cookman College graduates who turned their backs to DeVos when she spoke at their commencement. The cuts the administration is proposing proves Trump and DeVos don’t have interests of these students at heart.

Related: The highs and lows of Betsy DeVos’ first 100 days

DeVos should know that taking away real income, job opportunities and community development resources from the people who need it most in exchange for the hope of “choice” is foolish, educationally and economically. It’s also immoral.

But it’s not surprising, given her track record so far. From the beginning DeVos has demonstrated a deafness to facts, and her messianic commitment to choice makes her unfit for the job of overseeing our nation’s education system. Charter schools on average don’t distinguish themselves from their traditional school peers. One of the most favorable reports, by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), a think tank that regularly issues reports on charter performance, found in 2015 that in certain cities under certain conditions, charters out perform their traditional peers. And even that particular study contradicts prior reports of charters posting results that offered no significant differences.

At the same time, charter schools tend to undermine an education innovation that has proven to work: racial and economic integration. Compared to traditional public schools, charters are more racially and economically segregated, meaning that rather than point the way forward, charters are leading us back to the segregated education system that got us into the mess we’re currently in.

This Tuesday I participated on a panel sponsored by the NAACP-Legal Defense & Educational Fund that celebrated the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education. The event, “Public Education on the Brink: Protecting the Promise of Brown v. Board,” asked a question that new-age school reformers constantly avoid or at least answer myopically. What is the purpose of public education in a democracy?

NAACP-LDF president Sherrilyn Ifill pressed the panelists to think not just about how public education should better serve students of color, but also about the benefits white children are denied when schools are segregated. Writing in an opinion column the next day, Ifill argued:

“…when we talk about Brown, we too often mark the impact of the decision on black children, without taking stock of the damaging effects of segregated education on white children. And yet the harm segregation does to white children is also part of Brown‘s history. We should remember that lawyers for the black students in Brown presented strong evidence of the damaging effects of segregation on white children, too.”

What white people think of as justice, fairness and opportunity is distorted by their segregated reality. In a 1952 appendix to the NAACP-LDF’s Brown brief, Ifill reminds us, “social scientists warned that segregation teaches white children to ‘gain personal status in an unrealistic and non-adaptive way.’ They further warned that white children who ingest the steady diet of segregation and racial subordination suffer from ‘confusion, conflict [and] moral cynicism.’”

Related: How to hire more black principals

DeVos’ support of a budget that takes away needed resources to fund perilous policies is how white people look at justice through lenses forged in segregation.

Doubling down on vouchers exacerbates societal division by subsidizing faith-based schools that should be considered part of the problem (academically and socially). The voucher programs DeVos has promoted have shown to worsen academic achievement. They’re so bad that many Republicans don’t favor them.

DeVos and Trump regularly criticized the federal involvement in education. Congress reauthorized our federal education policy to limit the federal tinkering. To use the power of the federal government to push policies that have not only failed to address what creates learning disparities but also deepen political divides in communities is not only hypocritical, it’s downright irresponsible.

“Robbing Peter to pay Paul” thinking is a symptom of the segregated education system of which DeVos herself is a product. I’m hoping elected officials who see the threats Trump’s education budget poses on democracy will turn their backs to bad policy.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about race and equity.

Andre Perry

Andre Perry is the founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich. and the author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City (2011).