Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dear Betsy, About That Status Quo

The Honorable (sic) Betsy Devos
United States Secretary of Education
Department of Education
Washington, D.C.

Dear Betsy,

     Welcome to the second of my letters. While you give much to discuss regarding the state of public education in the United States, you really stirred the pot when you accused your detractors and dismissed the protesters in Denver as 'defenders of the status quo.'

     While you remain unaware of much that has taken place in education over the last twenty years, (I would have said ignorant but that word has taken on pejorative tones; I want this to be a respectful communication,) surely you are aware that the status quo is not the educational system of the 1950s, where parents sent their children to public schools, parochial  schools (that is, Catholic schools), or private schools to which they paid the entire tuition.

     By the way, Betsy, as we get rolling, notice that with those three options parents have always had a choice and a free market of sorts has always existed. In fact, without government vouchers, sending a child for all except the very wealthy involved a sacrifice on the parents' part and schools had to keep tuition affordable. That free market was working, including the viable option of sending children to the local public school.

     But the status quo of 1957 is not the status quo of 2017. Much has changed. None of your critics are defending the status quo because the marketplace has added government-subsidized options (emphasis mine). Indeed, as an aside, it is a surprise to me that such a free-market advocate as yourself has one policy in mind: expand government subsidies via a federal voucher program funded by a diversion of Title 1 dollars (again, emphasis mine).

    Let's examine the status quo in Florida, whereby parents can access the following education options:


  1. One of over 652 charter schools according to the Florida Department of Education (http://www.fldoe.org/schools/school-choice/charter-schools/). That was the 2015 - 2016 school year and the number grows annually.
  2. Florida Virtual School, an online option for students, including 62 district franchises associated with FLVS.
  3. Other virtual schools that are allowed by Florida law to begin operating in the state. (BTW, as an assist to virtual models of education, the legislature requires high school students to take at least one credit-bearing course via an online option.)
  4. John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities. This is a voucher program that gives parents up to $20,000 to enroll their child in a private school that meets their child's needs.
  5. Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for low-income families. These are the ones you tout, the children you claim deserve the same option as children from wealthy families to attend quality schools. In the school year 2014 -2015, parents could get a voucher worth $5,272. For comparison, one such quality private school in my city (Bolles School) has annual tuition of $24,000 for a middle-school aged child. Providence School for the same age is $11, 782. Episcopal High School charges a tuition of $22,500 for a middle-school child.
  6. Personal Learning Scholarship Account Program for children with specified, severe disabilities. An educational savings account-type program, it's worth $10,000 a year and parents can use the money for diagnostic and support services.
  7. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Students in public schools labeled as 'failing' may transfer to another public school.
  8. Private schools.
  9. Home Schooling.
  10. Traditional Public Schools, including magnet programs, choice programs, vocational programs, and in high school, AICE (Cambridge) diploma, IB diploma, and dual enrollment programs.
Source: http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/5606/urlt/2015ChoiceOptionsBook.pdf

    This is the status quo, Betsy, and no defender/advocate for public education, including your critics, is defending it.

     There isn't sufficient space in this post to critique the many options on this list and explain why they should not be subsidized with taxpayer dollars. However, the list is sufficient to demonstrate that your dismissal of public school advocates is wrong, dead wrong. They criticize and work to eliminate this status quo.

     You don't like this status quo, either. You really don't like charter schools and they have figured that out. It really isn't a problem for them; eventually, they will convert to voucher schools. You want to eliminate #10, traditional public schools and for the most unknowing of reasons: you entertain a stereotype of teachers that is false. Like the Israelites of old, though, you worship this golden calf in the desert because you believe it will bring investors the meager gold that poor and middle-class families have left after 25 years of a diverging economy that is eliminating the middle-class.

     You are Aaron, asking for the gold to build this idol of a privatized school system funded by vouchers.

      You cry that poor children deserve the same quality schools that wealthy children can afford.

      You push taxpayer-funded subsidies to give those children that opportunity because their parents cannot afford it.

      You weep in front of your idol and call upon others to do as you say.

      Because low-income parents cannot afford the tuition. Because they are low-income.

     Has it never occurred to you, wealthy Amway billionaire, investor and owner of many business, that you could solve that problem yourself without needing the government? The solution is simple.

     Pay your workers a living wage, one that will sustain their families, without the need for government subsidies. Then support laws that force all employers to do the same.

     Really, Betsy, it's the least you could do ... if you really care about the children.

Very truly yours,

Gregory Sampson