As COVID-19 takes toll, DeVos denounced for new ‘craven’ public school privatization scheme

‘With our country dealing with a pandemic, an economic recession, and structural racism, she's spied an opening to exploit this crisis to resuscitate her failed agenda.’

With the Trump administration planning to demand that Congress devote a large chunk of the state and local education funding in the next COVID-19 relief package to a new grant program for private and religious schools, the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers on Thursday accused Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of attempting to exploit the pandemic to advance her privatization agenda.

“It is telling that, after spending more than three years doing nothing to help the public schools that 90 percent of children attend, Betsy DeVos races to divert resources into private hands 48 hours after the Supreme Court’s decision in Espinoza,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement, referring to the high court’s ruling Tuesday that religious schools cannot be excluded from taxpayer aid programs.

“With our country dealing with a pandemic, an economic recession, and structural racism, she’s spied an opening to exploit this crisis to resuscitate her failed agenda,” said Weingarten. “And it’s especially sickening that, in the middle of a national reckoning over race, when poor schools are in desperate need of funds to reopen safely, DeVos hijacks the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act to shift support away from where it’s needed most.”

“DeVos’ craven attempts to divide and privatize would be laughable if the stakes weren’t so high,” Weingarten added.

McClatchy reported Thursday that the Trump administration intends to ask Congress “for a ‘one-time, emergency appropriation’ for a new grant proposal” that would “be provided to states to distribute to nonprofit institutions that disburse scholarships to qualified students who want to attend non-public schools.”

“The White House is seeking to have 10% of the amount that Congress approves for state and local educational agencies set aside for the grants,” according to McClatchy. “Trump will also seek approval of $5 billion in federal tax credits for businesses and individuals who donate to the scholarship programs.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, warned in a statement Thursday that “Secretary DeVos and President Trump are using this pandemic as an excuse to push an ideological privatization agenda that would divert much-needed funds away from our public schools that serve approximately 90% of students across the country.”

“Right now, our public education system is facing unprecedented challenges—public schools are scrambling to implement safety protocols with limited funds, millions of education jobs are on the line due to looming budget shortfalls, and families across the country are struggling with a chaotic, uncertain reality,” Murray said.

“On the anniversary of Civil Rights Act of 1964, it’s also important to note the pandemic has exacerbated severe racial inequities that have long existed in our education system,” the Washington Democrat continued. “If Republicans have any sincere interest in addressing these inequities, they should show it by working with Democrats to invest in public education and address systemic racism rather than siphoning resources away when they’re needed more than ever.”

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Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter: @johnsonjakep

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