Betsy DeVos, the controversial new Secretary of Education, has received some of her strongest support from charter school advocates and educators. DeVos has been a champion of charter and voucher schools, and was praised in states like North Carolina, where more than 80,000 students are in charters.
But not in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts has 78 charter schools, which advocates say are succeeding in their educational mission. So it was somewhat surprising that Massachusetts Charter Public School Association executive director Marc Kenen expressed wariness about DeVos in her new role. In an interview with Metro, Kenen explains.
A month ago, you wrote a letter to [Sen.] Elizabeth Warren about your concerns about DeVos as Education Secretary. Can you expand on what prompted that, considering her general support among charter school advocates?
The charter school movement is very different state to state across the country. Here in Massachusetts, we believe very strongly that the only reason to have charter schools is if you have very high quality charter schools. Having school choice that’s not quality is not a choice at all.
We expressed concerns in the letter that the track record of the now Secretary of Education indicated the lack of intensity of focus on quality and accountability.
What kind of impact does the Secretary of Education have on local charter schools?
The Secretary of Education has some power over what happens on a local level.
Mostly it's really about what the federal budget looks like, and she has a small role in that, so we are particularly concerned about any kind of budgetary proposals coming from [President] Trump that the secretary would be either behind or supporting.
Have you been in touch with charter schools in other states about your concerns?
There’s lots of conversation and discussion, but not necessarily agreement because our state systems are very, very different. Many of the policies that we might support may not be shared by our colleagues in other states.
Are you worried that DeVos’ support of charters could hurt the popularity of charter schools in Massachusetts?
We’re concerned that the support of the president could have a negative impact on our public support in Massachusetts, but more importantly, we’re concerned that under the guise of supporting charter schools, the president and secretary will impose and enact proposals that hurt kids.
Can you give an example?
In the presidential campaign, Trump proposed the idea of transferring $20 billion in federal money from the Title 1 program, which is an entitlement program that goes to schools across the country that serve the poorest children. This money has been an integral part of providing equity for children in public schools across the country.
He wants to take $20 billion out of that money and give it to states in a block grant, meaning a lump sum, to support their private school voucher programs, which is a pet project of the Secretary of Education.
By saying they support charter schools and school choice, and proposing something that would be devastating for public school kids in charter schools and district schools —because we all get Title 1 money —this would be very detrimental not only to charter schools but to kids across the country.
You say Massachusetts charter schools are some of the best in the country. Why is that the case?
The Massachusetts law creates one of the most rigorous processes for obtaining or opening a new charter school, and holds them to very high standards in accountability. We think those two things are the key to success and those are the two things we worry the Secretary of Education is not committed to.
What do you say to parents or educators who are also worried about DeVos?
It's just very important for parents and the general public to be vigilant about what might come out of the Trump administration on public education, period. That is going to take a united effort by charter public schools and district public schools and parents and the union to all work together to fight off any proposals that would be detrimental to Massachusetts public education.