When she was nominated, the education media wondered whether she would make good on then-President-elect Trump’s campaign promise to convert the federal government’s funding for high-poverty public schools into a voucher system. In March, liberals read Trump’s proposed budget and found confirmation of their fears: As written, it would cut billions from teacher training in favor of significant new spending on school choice. In a recent talk at Brookings, DeVos hinted that her department might use its authority to encourage states to expand school choice programs.
Is there a there there? In the Trump era, when every new, suspicious fact just gets more concerning upon further investigation, when outwardly disconnected events seem to keep stubbornly linking up into nefarious conspiracies, it’s easy to survey DeVos’s record and short time in office and see the groundwork for a steady campaign against public education.
But much of this sort of hand-wringing about DeVos is misplaced. Given the limits that Congress placed on the Department of Education at the tail end of the Obama administration, her ability to make states hew to her agenda is limited. What’s more, the public’s general disinterest in education as a political issue will also limit DeVos’s room to maneuver. Specifically, while Americans often express concern about the state of public education, they’re generally comfortable with their own schools. This means that any dramatic changes to American schooling usually come with greater risks than rewards.
Put it this way: Critics looking for major activism from DeVos are likely to be disappointed. It’s far more likely her “sins” against public education will be sins of omission than of commission.
Here’s a handy way to keep the two clear in your head. Let’s…