For DeVos, the Pandemic Is Another Opportunity for Profit | #Education

Every day, another state offers its best guess for what the safest path to schooling will be for the coming year. Between anxious kids eager to see their friends, parents torn between work obligations and fear for their children’s health, and teachers caught in the middle of it all, nobody is winning. Even worse, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, along with the president of the United States, has made it crystal clear that funding will depend upon schools reopening in person, regardless of health and safety concerns shared by experts. Parents, students, and teachers are being forced to decide between education or health, while those in charge continue to serve only themselves.

While the focus should be on how to keep students, teachers, and staff safe—while still providing some form of quality public education—DeVos is using the pandemic as an opportunity to support private and charter schools, despite their not being a feasible option for many. In May, she announced that education funding in the federal CARES Act, intended to support low-income public and private schools during the pandemic, would be distributed not by how many low-income students attended the school but rather by its total number of students, a move that would reroute funds meant for kids in need. And while the department’s interpretation of the CARES Act was met with lawsuits in California and Washington, and finally ruled unconstitutional in September by a federal judge, the attempted funding setup set the tone for how the department would handle reopenings: with only the wealthy in mind.

DeVos is using the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 to push a narrow privatization agenda that her family has long shared with the likes of political mega-donor Charles Koch. We know that charter schools are failing children, particularly those who are already most at risk of education inequity: those living in poverty, as well as Black and Latinx students. A recent report from the Network for Public Education looked at the results of taxpayer-funded grants from the US Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program from 2006 to 2014. It found 1,779 grantee schools that either never opened or have since shut down—a failure rate of 37 percent, at a waste of over half a billion dollars.

The same at-risk groups that have been failed by charter schools have also been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Black people are two times more likely to contract the virus and, in 32 states, are dying at rates higher than their proportion of the population. Latinx rates of contracting the disease are four times higher than their proportion of the population in eight states. Meanwhile, instead of meeting with health experts to figure out how to safely reopen schools, DeVos is using her time to hold virtual meetings with members of the Koch-backed Federalist Society, a conservative organization that aligns with her education privatization goals. Forget for a moment that their decision to meet virtually gives away their knowledge of the virus’s danger while they push for in-person schooling. Look at who DeVos is catering to. She didn’t meet with the teachers, students, and families who will be most affected by school reopenings. She’s continuing to prioritize the interests of the wealthy elite—those who will never have to choose between working to feed their families or keeping their children safely at home.

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