Most people across the country are, by now, familiar with the name Betsy DeVos. As the Secretary of Education under the Trump Administration, DeVos has been receiving a great deal of national attention since taking on that role. But many people are unaware of the decades that DeVos spent in the trenches, fighting on behalf of some of America’s most disadvantaged kids. Today, she has finally been put in a position where her deep expertise and vast experience can be used to affect real change across America’s failing public school system.
Free market solutions for a socialized mess
Betsy DeVos first became interested in America’s public education system when she was in her 20s. Along with her entrepreneur husband, Dick DeVos, Betsy DeVos had the opportunity to tour some of the state of Michigan’s inner-city schools due to the philanthropic activities of her and her husband. She was shocked to see, for the first time, how vastly different the amenities, classroom environment and quality of teachers was between the schools in which she and her peers had thrived and those in which many inner-city kids are forced to marinate in dysfunction and chaos. DeVos saw classrooms where there was no heat in the winter and teachers who couldn’t be bothered to get the worst classroom bullies under control. She immediately knew that these schools represented a massive failure and a heartbreaking shortchanging of all of the children who were consigned to attend them.
Then DeVos became familiar with the work of Milton Friedman and other free-market philosophers, who contended that the only reason such atrociously shoddy schools were permitted to exist was because the free market had been completely excised from education. According to this libertarian theory of education, if real competition were introduced, and a market for education was created, then such schools would quickly cease to exist because all of the students would flock to the superior competitors.
DeVos instantly saw the merit in these arguments and began to help build what would become the school choice movement. Today, school choice denotes a number of free-market solutions to the woes of public education. Chief among these are the school voucher system, charter schools, open enrollment and district of choice. Many of these programs, especially charter schools, have directly proven that many of the predictions of free-market advocates have been borne out by real-world successes.
As DeVos continues the fight to bring accountability and real choice to public education, she may prove to be the most important contribution that the Trump Administration is remembered for.
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