Early and mid-August is around the time most young kids head back to school, toting their dreams and their fears all at once in their backpacks. Since last fall, however, scholastic dread is maybe more rampant than usual.

This is because, following the November presidential election of Donald Trump, he made headway into handpicking his cabinet– what is notably the most white and male presidential cabinet since Reagan. That aside, there were also questions as to how suitable his cabinet picks were for their assigned purposes. In this context, what comes to mind is Betsy DeVos, the newest Secretary of Education, a strong advocate for “school choice” and a big threat to public education.

School choice

Although her confirmation as Secretary was several months ago, in fact in February, it seems important to stay up to date with how her nomination specifically affects students as changes become more visible.

DeVos, when named Secretary, was criticized by teachers and students alike, as well as by those not directly involved. Her righteous advocacy for “school choice,” critics soon figured, actually meant the privatization of what they would much rather prefer - accessible and affordable education.

Privatization alone is a wary subject for a number of reasons. It supports a neoliberal agenda, neoliberal being a term to describe free-market capitalism. Neoliberalism usually propagates the idea that private parties can decide whatever policy fits best for them, regardless of higher governments and authorities.

It can also mean capitalizing on mainstream movements, whether they be conservative or liberal, simply to make a profit. The negative connotation of neoliberalism is that it is usually the more privileged who are so economically interested, thus neoliberalism often amounts to conservative outcomes, or not so well-intentioned liberal commercialization.

Discuss this news on Eunomia

Privatizing education

DeVos’s plans are easily aligned with these neoliberal tendencies. While “school choice” at first sounds like a desirable liberty, it is actually the privatization of education, meaning that public funds would go towards private and charter schools, leaving less assistance for what teaches the majority of American school children, the public education system.

Charter schools have been proven to not actually help kids academically and in some instances hurts their performance. In addition, they provide far less support for those who need special education than does public schooling. Private schools are said to be more exceptional, yet actual examples widely vary. Private schools encourage parents and guardians who can afford it to send their children there, rather than improve the public education system, which is the only option for most students.

DeVos proposes spending 400 million dollars on a voucher program that could send low-income students to private schools that are deemed “better,” another billion to push schools towards her “school choice” ideals.

But research here too shows that voucher programs do not improve the scores of formerly public school students and sometimes scores decrease.

Collective bargaining

In all, DeVos is making a case for collective bargaining, in the notion that some wealthy and lucky kids’ education is more valuable than those who are less privileged and are probably needing it more. If all kids went to public school, then there would be more effort on fixing the issues that do occur there, as opposed to focusing funds and attention on a less accessible and not necessarily better education form.

Finance is a big discussion point in education, and DeVos is addressing those both in and out of school. For example, she is belligerently confronting those who have defaulted on their loans, is working on holding nondegree programs accountable for student debt, regressing the aid of loan forgiveness for defrauded students, and employing a chief executive of a private student-loan company to head the financial operations of the federal government.

In lower-level education, she’s decided to repeal legislation in favour of protecting transgender students, and has advanced the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which in true neoliberal order, gives states more authority. The actual truth, though, is a little bit more complicated. Common Core, a set of federal academic standards and ESSA’s controversial predecessor, needs to be approved on a state by state basis. Former President Obama did use federal funding as leverage, but ESSA will now have to compete with the Core. DeVos has expressed her disapproval of Common Core and is offering ESSA as a replacement, but this too has to be approved by the state. This all presents a quite confusing mess of educational programming.

Furthermore, DeVos is in full-frontal support of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) a conservative political lobbying group that creates mass legislation like the “Stand Your Ground” law, which helped Zimmerman from being convicted for Trayvon Martin’s murder. ALEC wants to create more voucher programs and similar undertakings through legislation.

On a grander scale, DeVos and Trump are making sizeable cuts to the public education budget for private expansion. And there’s word that they will be implementing a tax credit program that could potentially take away more money from state funds. DeVos is ruining education, million by million.