Education may be one of the last places federalism lives. In other words, educating our children is mix of federal, state, and local responsibility. In addition, both private and public institutions play an important role as well. For this reason alone, it may not matter that Betsy Devos will take the reigns as the new Education Secretary in the Trump administration. If the federal government pays for less than 10% of elementary and secondary education funding, that means the majority of dollars come from state, local and private resources.
What matters more is what President Trump has in mind in regard to the federal role in education. He campaigned with an emphasis on school choice, and his cabinet selection appears to be following suit. That’s what matters most about his selection of Devos as the head of the Department of Education, not her bono fides. Be clear, Devos will not be running your child’s school. The public local board of education or the board which provides guidance over a private institution will still be calling the shots as it can within the realm of legislation passed at the state level.
The most significant point gleaned from Devos’ nomination is that she is one of the strongest supporters of school choice because the education conversation has warmed to the point where charter schools and voucher programs are being considered as valid options. The idea of school choice has finally achieved escape velocity and this will continue to happen no matter what President holds office or whom he or she selects to head the Department of Education.
Public education has slipped, succeeding where wealthier Americans reside and failing where the poorest call home. This opened the door for choice in urban areas, the most notable example being New Orleans, LA. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, offering school choice and the utilization of approximately 80 charter schools made sense, and the Crescent City’s educational experience has had some great success. But what works there may not work in every American city.
Only school choice follows the path of freedom slapping back education elites who love to impose their beliefs on everyone else. Putting the power in the hands of parents to make the decision as to how best educate their children is liberating. It’s classical liberalism in action. If a school is not performing well, whether it be public or private, the parents will decide if it succeeds or fails. Competition and free-market principles can provide the best long-term outcomes. It helps stop the snobbery of elites who think they know best determining the educational path of all children.
Now for a confession. My son, who is nearing the end of first grade, attends a public school and I have been extremely pleased with his teachers and the educational philosophy that has molded his education thus far. Unless something wacky happens on the state level in Texas, I will continue to choose a public education for my son through his elementary and middle school years while he continues to form relationships with peers and discover his unique and God-given talents.
If he would benefit from a charter school which emphasizes liberal arts or a technical education for his high school years, hopefully there will be choice for him. My hope is that charter schools will open in Texas and those that thrive will provide options for students who don’t fit the traditional public education mold and that my tax dollars in the form of a voucher will allow my son to attend the best school that meets his specific needs. If the public option is the best, we will keep our money where it currently is.