Betsy DeVos openly admits she’s using the pandemic to impose her private school choice agenda

“Yes, absolutely,” DeVos replied when asked if she was trying to “utilize” the crisis to help “faith-based schools”

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos admitted that she was trying to use the ongoing coronavirus crisis to push through her private school choice agenda during a Tuesday radio interview.

DeVos made the comments during an interview with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, on his Sirius XM show. The interview was first flagged by the nonprofit education news outlet Chalkbeat.

Dolan asked the secretary whether she was trying to “utilize this particular crisis to ensure that justice is finally done to our kids and the parents who choose to send them to faith-based schools.”

“Am I correct in understanding what your agenda is?” he asked.

“Yes, absolutely,” DeVos replied. “For more than three decades, that has been something that I’ve been passionate about. This whole pandemic has brought into clear focus that everyone has been impacted, and we shouldn’t be thinking about students that are in public schools versus private schools.”

Department of Education spokeswoman Angela Morabito said in a statement to Chalkbeat that DeVos “is helping Catholic schools just as she is helping all schools; this does not mean she is favoring any one type of school over another.”

“There is no question that this crisis has impacted all students — no matter what kind of school they’re enrolled in,” she added.

DeVos’ comments came as she defended her decision to redirect coronavirus relief funds away from public schools with high numbers of impoverished students to private schools which tend to serve wealthy students. Congress allocated about $13.5 billion to help schools, most of which was intended to go to schools based on a formula that determines how many poor children they serve.

The formula has long allocated some of the funding for poor children who attend private schools, The Washington Post reported. But DeVos said states should calculate how many total students private schools serve rather than just the number of poor students. As a result, millions in aid will be redirected away from schools with high poverty rates to private schools which may not have many poor students.

The move drew criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“My sense was that the money should have been distributed in the same way we distribute Title I money,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Education Committee who is typically a DeVos allytold reporters Wednesday. “I think that’s what most of Congress was expecting.”

Democrats also decried the decision.

“[The guidance] seeks to repurpose hundreds-of-millions of taxpayer dollars intended for public school students to provide services for private school students, in contravention of both the plain reading of the statute and the intent of Congress,” House Education Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., House Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLaura, D-Ct., and Senate Education ranking member Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a letter to DeVos on Tuesday.

“Given that the guidance contradicts the clear requirements of the CARES Act, it will cause confusion among states and local education agencies that will be uncertain of how to comply with both the department’s guidance and the plain language of the CARES Act,” the lawmakers urged, asking her to “immediately revise” the guidance.

But DeVos defended the decision Thursday to reporters.

“It’s our interpretation that [the funding] is meant literally for all students, and that includes students no matter where they’re learning,” she said.

The Democrats’ warning has proven right, however, as states are already dealing with confusion sparked by the policy.

The Education Law Center said DeVos’ policy was a “patent misreading” of the federal law and could redirect $800,000 in aid from Newark Public Schools in New Jersey to private school students. Tennessee’s education chief said she plans to follow DeVos’ guidance, but other school leaders argue that it is not legally binding and should be ignored.

Indiana’s schools chief Jennifer McCormick said that  the state would ignore the guidance after consulting with the state’s attorney general.

“I will not play political agenda games with relief funds,” she said.

Scott told NPR that “there is rightfully pushback” on the decision.

“The actions of the Department of Education have left states and districts stuck between compliance with the law,” he said, “and adhering to ideologically motivated guidance.”

 

Why Can’t Trump Build Anything?

Infrastructure won’t happen until the Democrats regain control.

Donald Trump isn’t the first president, or even the first Republican president, who has sought to define his legacy in part with a big construction project. Abraham Lincoln signed legislation providing the land grants and financing that created the transcontinental railroad. Theodore Roosevelt built the Panama Canal. Dwight Eisenhower built the interstate highway system.

But Trump’s wall is different, and not just because it probably won’t actually get built. Previous big construction projects were about bringing people together and making them more productive. The wall is about division — not just a barrier against outsiders, but an attempt to drive a wedge between Americans, too. It’s about fear, not the future.

Why isn’t Trump building anything? Surely he’s exactly the kind of politician likely to suffer from an edifice complex, a desire to see his name on big projects. Furthermore, during the 2016 campaign he didn’t just promise a wall, he also promised a major rebuilding of America’s infrastructure.

But month after month of inaction followed his inauguration. A year ago he again promised “the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history.” Again, nothing happened.

Last month there was reportedly a White House meeting to game outa new infrastructure plan. This time they mean it. Really. Would this administration ever lie to you?

The interesting question is why Trump seems unwilling or unable to do anything about America’s crumbling roads, bridges, water supplies and so on. After all, polls show that a large majority of the public wants to see more infrastructure spending. Public investment is an issue on which Trump could get substantial Democratic support; it would lift the economy, and also help repair the public’s perception that the administration is chaotic and incompetent.

Yet everything points to two more years of occasional bombast about infrastructure, with no follow-up. Why the paralysis?

Some news analyses suggest that it’s about money, that big infrastructure spending would happen if only Republicans and Democrats could agree on how to pay for it. But this is being credulous. Remember, in 2017 the G.O.P. enacted a $2 trillion tax cutwith absolutely no pay-fors; the tax cut is completely failing to deliver the promised boost to private investment, but there is no sign of buyer’s remorse.

So Republicans don’t really care about using debt to pay for things they want. And Democrats, whose top policy wonks have been telling them that deficit fears are excessive, would surely support a program of debt-financed infrastructure spending.

Trump Doesn’t Give a Dam

The $1.5 trillion number is just made up; he’s only proposing federal spending of $200 billion, which is somehow supposed to magically induce a vastly bigger overall increase in infrastructure investment, mainly paid for either by state and local governments (which are not exactly rolling in cash, but whatever) or by the private sector.

.. And even the $200 billion is essentially fraudulent: The budget proposal announced the same day doesn’t just impose savage cuts on the poor, it includes sharp cuts for the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy and other agencies that would be crucially involved in any real infrastructure plan. Realistically, Trump’s offer on infrastructure is this: nothing.

.. That’s not to say that the plan is completely vacuous. One section says that it would “authorize federal divestiture of assets that would be better managed by state, local or private entities.” Translation: We’re going to privatize whatever we can

.. Despite a modest rise in interest rates, the federal government can still borrow very cheaply: The interest rate on inflation-protected long-term bonds is still less than 1 percent, which is below realistic estimates of long-run economic growth, let alone the Trump administration’s fantasy numbers. So borrowing now to pay for essential infrastructure would still be good economics.

.. some Democrats feared that Trump really would go big on infrastructure, which might drive a wedge into their party and be highly popular besides.

.. An infrastructure program involving real money could be very lucrative for Trump cronies, or for that matter Trump himself. Yes, there are rules that are supposed to prevent that kind of profiteering, but does anyone think those rules would be enforced under current management?

.. Part of the answer is that in practice Trump always defers to Republican orthodoxy, and the modern G.O.P. hates any program that might show people that government can work and help people.

.. But I also suspect that Trump is afraid to try anything substantive. To do public investment successfully, you need leadership and advice from experts. And this administration doesn’t do expertise, in any field. Not only do experts have a nasty habit of telling you things you don’t want to hear, their loyalty is suspect: You never know when their professional ethics might kick in.

So the Trump administration probably couldn’t put together a real infrastructure plan even if it wanted to. And that’s why it didn’t.