Secretary of Education DeVos has been crisscrossing the country in an attempt to sell her $5 billion voucher plan. Her latest stop was Kentucky, a state that has achieved a sort of choice limbo; there's a charter law on the books, but the legislature has so far refused to fund it, and so there are no charter schools.
But school choice has a friend in Governor Matt Bevin, a former investment manager and Tea Party fave who has oodles of ideas about privatizing education in Kentucky (including that stupid "retaining third graders who score low on a standardized reading test" idea). What doesn't Matt Bevin like? Well, see if you can pick up the subtle dig here.
|Matt Bevin has had it with you. All of you.|
The people here care about the kids. Every single person who sat around this table cares about the children. Not about funding. Not about territory. Not about power. Not about politics. They care about parents and they care about students.
Okay, so it wasn't subtle at all (and if you watch him say it, there's no softening via context, either.) All those people who actually have dedicated their adult lives to working in public education do not care about students. They're just in it for the money and the power.
So other than this rather dickish slam at public education folks, what came out of the day?
Well, that meeting gathered state officials including Wayne Lewis (Education Commissioner), Hal Heiner (Board of Education Chair), Derrick Ramsey (Education and Workforce Development), and Aaron Thompson (Postsecondary Education). Then throw in representatives from EdChoice Kentucky, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentucky Public [sic] Charter Schools Association, and Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions.
Does it seem that the deck is stacked? Well, here's more. You might think that the Kentucky Public [sic] Charter Schools Association might be an odd organization to exist when Kentucky has no actual charter schools. But it exists, and though its website gives little clue about who it is exactly, its 990 forms indicate that it has existed with a paltry budget of a few thousand dollars. Only three years of forms show up (2014, 2015, 2016). In 2014 and 2015, the chairman of the group was Wayne Lewis, now the education commissioner, and a hard-core charter promoter. In 2016, no chair is listed; the top name is Milton Seymore, retired Ford exec, Baptist pastor, and for a time, Kentucky Board of Education chair appointed by Bevin. Gary Houchens is also a KPCSA member and Bevin Board of Education appointee.
DeVos was there to encourage the folks at the table to "keep at it and keep fighting" even though they had suffered some "frustrations" (aka "defeats").
DeVos also took some actual questions afterwards.
She and Bevin framed the "opportunity" for workforce development (train those meat widgets) and pointed out that Democrat reps should be pushing this because education is totally not political (said the governor who has pulled all the political levers he can get his hands on to push his education policies, which are, in fact, business policies. Pro tip-- privatizing public education is a political act.
Asked to address the issue of how vouchers drain resources from public schools, DeVos skipped her usual answer ("It totally wouldn't") for a different non-answer. First, it meets the needs of kids who don't fit in public schools. Unless, of course, their needs are expensive adaptations or ELL needs or behavioral needs, etc. Second, "in every state" where charters have been installed, results in public schools "get better right along with" the chartered students. Except that, of course, not all charter students do better, and research certainly doesn't indicate that public schools near charters get better in every state. So, not actually an answer, and not actually true.
Another reporter asks about full funding for IEA to benefit students with special education needs, and DeVos starts with a non-answer then pivots to a spectacular tale about Florida and how their choice programs have allowed families to "customize" the education of those students. You can watch the clip at the bottom of this post, complete with Bevin's two-pointy-finger angry non-answer regarding the exclusion of public education folks. Also, is it just me, or does Bevin always look like he wants to punch someone? Judge for yourself in the clip.
Some public ed folks did have some thoughts about the summit:
"Today’s meeting was nothing more than a photo-op for a failed governor and a failed education secretary who refuse to listen to those who may disagree with their proposals," the Kentucky Education Association said in a statement. "In November, Kentucky voters can decide if they want two individuals like Bevin and DeVos who never attended public school to make policy for their children’s futures, or do they want local educators, school board members, superintendents and parents looking out for what’s best for their neighborhood school"
That seems like a fair assessment. Stay tuned for the next stop on DeVos's Doomed Voucher Proposal Tour.