Empowering Students through School Choice, with Betsy DeVos

welcome to uncommon knowledge I'm Peter Robinson since 2017 Betsy DeVos has served as the eleventh secretary of education a native of Michigan she has served as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party she spent many years as a philanthropist and activist in the school choice movement she's supportive charter schools in Detroit and served on the boards of the foundation for excellence in education and the Alliance for school choice secretary DeVos welcome thank you Peter the Department of Education established by President Carter in 1979 4,000 employees a budget I think the 2020 budget has been announced and it's coming it's in the range of 70 billion that's yes it depends on the day but it's right in there we're serious money even by the standards of the federal government and according to a statement on the department's own website its principal duties are quote to establish policy for administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education collect data on US schools and enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights close quote okay now here's the this is almost an obligatory question you spent your life before going to Washington as an activist in conservative politics a lot of conservatives the great man ed Meese when he was an advisor to Ronald Reagan Rick Perry your your colleague on in the cabinet a lot of conservatives to Ceph said the Department of Education shouldn't even exist bill bennett your predecessor Secretary of Education loved his post but the threshold question is as a conservative how do you think about the department and what good do you believe you can do at a place that a lot of your friends think probably shouldn't have been created to begin with well Peter when I arrived in this job it was very evident that the last administration and previous administrations had really overreached with regard to the federal role in education so some of what we're doing is pulling back on those regulatory issues that have overstepped the bounds and we're very focused on right sizing the role of the Department of Education and the role of education at the federal level it's important to remember that in k-12 education writ large only 10% of the funding comes from the federal government and states really have to drive education so my focus before coming here has been to help empower students and their parents to find the right fit for their education too many kids are stuck in schools to which they're assigned by their address and zip code and my advocacy has been to free up the system to free up education to help students find the right place that they can learn and grow and thrive so you're right sizing I guess you're making more constitutionally correct the role of the Department and serving as an advocate yes and I there are very many areas that the Department has really overstepped its bounds and we are intent this administration is really intent on respecting the role of the states and primarily respecting the role of families and parents and the importance of the primacy of their their role in education I want to come to your deeply held convictions on school choice in a moment first I'd like to discuss what's wrong with in so many of our public schools let's begin if we if we could with a contrast between American universities and our high schools by virtually every measure American universities are the best in the world there's a recent ranking of the top 10 universities only Oxford and Cambridge are outside the United States we have over a million foreign students coming here to study in our universities high schools the program for International Student Assessment administers tests in 70 countries you know all about this among fifteen year olds Americans ranked 23rd in reading 25th in science and 39th in math how come how can we have such X universities and such mediocrity in our high schools well I would argue that the k-12 system has been protected as a system for decades and one of your colleagues here Rick Hanna Chuck and Paul Peterson recently did a study of the last 50 years of involvement in education federal involvement and and and the results that over a trillion dollars of spending to try to improve outcomes for all students what that has reaped and the result was or their conclusion was basically no impact and so we've been really trying to invest to help the students that are most vulnerable that need the most help and yet the results haven't shown there so the big the big conclusion would be the university system is mixed they're big public universities there are private institutions actually competition lots of choices whereas the high school system is still will come to this there are some charter schools but by and large it's still a pretty monolithic government monopoly is that correct that that is correct and my focus has been to try to change that dynamic and to help facilitate States to take the lead on that but we have it we do have a proposal at the federal level which go ahead let's talk about that right now so we have a proposal to establish a federal tax credit that states would decide whether or not they wanted to participate in some of those funds and if they did they would create programs a program or programs for families in their state to access different choices for their students k-12 education so we've encouraged people to think very broadly about what this could mean we've had a lot of discussion around advancing apprenticeship opportunities in Career and Technical Education with 7.8 million jobs today going unfilled and and and there's every every possibility for States to be really creative about providing different options and different opportunities for students in Kate of years here's the best brief summary of your proposal that I was able to find so will you if this is correct excellent and if it's wrong please let me know the this past February was when you made your proposal public you had unveiled a bill that would provide up to 5 billion in tax credits for scholarships for students to attend alternative schools that what that means is that donors would be a permitted to contribute up to 10% of their adjusted gross income this gets complicated in a hurry federal government and that right okay now so it doesn't create any new program at the federal level it doesn't create any new bureaucracy to administer what it does is allows individuals or corporations to say you know we'd like to redirect a portion of our tax bill to the federal government into a scholarship granting organization that must be a plan for States yes and that will go directly to students and their families to make different choices it's a really efficient way of helping students get better education now the bill here's what something I find interesting the bill attracted a lot of the usual criticism here's here's an example of the usual stuff that you get a lot of Democratic senator patty Murray of Washington quote secretary DeVos keeps pushing her anti public school agenda blah blah blah we'll come back to that but the bill also got criticized on the right lindsey burke of the Heritage Foundation Heritage Foundation at conservative think-tank where she surely must have many friends you've worked with people at Heritage over the years quote a nationwide federal tax credit program would grow rather than reduce federal intervention in education close quote Betsy DeVos here you are trying to do some good you're getting whacked around by the left well you've learned to live with that but from the right well heritage is just dead wrong on this it doesn't create any new federal program nor any new opportunity to delve into schools and their ability to operate in any way states would have control over how programs were created states would decide whether wanted to participate or not there's no mandate that they must and there's no mandate that schools must participate but the reality is it doesn't create anything new at the federal level other than a portal at the Department of Treasury that would maintain a list of 501c3 scholarship granting organizations that's the that you know that's the be the start and the end of it and so we are very focused on trying to advance this in a way that is very it all Tamiya has to be bipartisan and and to help States and help policymakers think more broadly about what choices can mean let's go back let's go back to your underlying principles about charter schools that's about school choice is the way it to put it you gave a big speech at Harvard a couple of years ago quote I came into office with a core belief it is the inalienable right and responsibility of parents to choose the learning environment that best meets their child's unique individual needs close quote explain that well I believe that the family that parents are the primary educator for their child or their children and and we have in to a large extent removed a lot of that ability to direct and control by forcing way too many families to assign schools based on where they live now if you have resources if you're powerful or connected you figure out a way to find as a good school for your child but if you don't you're the ones that get left behind and miss out and so we believe that education freedom for everyone is a critical critical piece of our future when you think about the fact that all students that transit through k-12 education represent our future we have as as condi rice and Joel Klein identified a number of years ago now this is really an international and a national security issue for our nation all right now the argument that you get hit with that everybody who is a proponent of charter schools or school choice generally stated gets hit with is is the following any kid actually their two arguments I think it's fair to say one any kid who drops out of the public school system to go to a charter school or a religious school or a private school takes money away from the public school system so you are you're bleeding the public school system that's the first argument the second argument is that of all the schools you'd care to name the different varieties of schools charter schools religious private and so forth only the public school is required by law to accept all comers all other schools get to accept students that they wish to accept and so they're going to be cherry picking and the result of Betsy DeVos is very admirable very deeply felt convictions the result is going to be to bleed the public school system at the same time that you're leaving it with the students who need the most resources and the most help well we should be about educating individual children not funding a system and so when a student elects to go to a different school and the money follows that child to whatever school is chosen that represents their opportunity for education it's not about a building or a system it's about individual kids and doing what's right for them the other criticism that you've identified there you've heard all this a few times a few times a few times I like to cite Florida because Florida has really come a long way with reforms that have opened up freedom for many families to choose different schools that have reformed the traditional system and their dozens of charter schools and for hundreds and and and also a tax credit scholarship program that is allowing low-income families to choose faith-based schools or other private schools that they deem appropriate for their children so the latest number I heard is that up to 70% of kids in Florida are going to a school other than their assigned school which is a huge percentage and in in when you look at the performance data or the achievement data in Florida Florida went from 48th on the nape exam the nation's report card to the last one being first in a number of categories and in the top ten in every single category and the most important part of that is that the lowest decile students performance continued to improve along with the upper deciles so you're not developing a two-tier system where everyone is in having an opportunity to achieve at higher levels and to do better by finding the place that's right for them okay so that makes so much sense that we have to ask a little bit about the opposition you encounter and the figures I came across run as follows again you know more about this than I do so correct me if I'm wrong seventy percent of teachers who teach in public schools belong to teachers unions they're a couple big ones National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers they are in many instances required to pay union dues and the unions which through the 90s and early 2000s the teachers unions made political contributions that through that period the earliest data I could find began in 1990 remained it about level at between three and five million dollars a year has in recent years ramped up so that they are now spending something like thirty between thirty and forty million dollars a year on political contributions and if you ask are they dividing them relatively evenly between Republicans and Democrats the answer is not even close last year it was as near as spit to 100% of those contributions going to Democratic candidates now you don't call them on that much as far as I can tell don't you shouldn't you well I think you're right a little bit you you always keep it as best I can tell you try to keep things at the level of principle and so forth this is raw politics they're using taxpayer money for special pleading organization of their private organizations that are about adult issues and adult jobs they're doing an effective job of what you know what they are constructed to do but they're not focused on doing what's right for kids and I have consistently maintained that education of all issues should not be a partisan issue but the unions have succeeded in making it so because they have directed all of their resources specifically primarily to one party and you know you're hearing a lot of that now as we listen to a number of the different candidates for president in 2020 talking about basically you know issues that and they know are going to be attractive to the teachers union now I also want to make sure to distinguish the importance of supporting and honoring teachers hmm as distinct from the teachers unions and I think I've heard from hundreds of teachers and dozens who say we don't get the kind of autonomy and flexibility or opportunity to do the things we know how to do best they feel very much many of them consigned to a one-size-fits-all system as well which is another argument for Education freedom freedom for teachers and freedom for students to do different what you know approach different ways of teaching different ways of learning different environments different focuses and and really to bring a lot more entrepreneurship to the education world so do you feel you're you're at the forefront of a movement that's gathering strength or are you fighting a noble losing battle here's here this got my attention just last week here in California there was a resolute three local chapters here in California of the n-double a-c-p National Association for the Advancement of Colored People the National Organization has been pushing a moratorium on new charter schools no more of them incidentally we have to note that the National Organization is funded in part by teachers unions three local chapters here in California said no no we want more charter schools here's from the resolution by the San Diego chapter of the n-double a-c-p the academic performance the academic performance of african-american students must be the sole determinant a school district decision making rather than the financial benefit from public school funding generated by african-american students close quote you you must find that heartening but are these just little little tiny rearguard actions or do you feel that there's some momentum is definitely building states have taken big steps some smaller steps toward giving more parents and more students Act more education freedom and all the polling data continues to show increasing support for choices and education freedom if you look at almost any demographic the vast majority of them say parents should be able to choose the right education setting or environment for their child millenials about 80 percent of Millennials both Hispanic Americans and African Americans in the mid to high 70s as well and when you look at when you even ask parents of students in the traditional public school if they would if they're happy there or if they would choose something different if they had the opportunity to 60% of them say we would choose something different well that that you know that really speaks to a continued dissatisfaction with what they've been offered or assigned to and a continued movement toward freedom so one more question about school choice and the practical politics of school choice local chapters of the n-double a-c-p those are african-american mothers and fathers the students who are disproportionately disadvantaged because they find themselves stuck in mediocre or worse public schools are disproportionately minorities african-americans Hispanics and they tend to vote Democratic they tend to vote Democratic overwhelmingly and your people Republicans well let's put it this way the last Republican Governor of California was Pete Wilson and Pete Wilson did everything he could to promote school choice here in California and Republicans said nothing doing because Republicans overwhelmingly white middle class they were in wealthy suburbs their public schools were fine so you've got this problem where Betsy DeVos is championing mothers and fathers who vote for your Democratic opponents an interesting new to about this there was an interesting statistic and story coming out of Florida in 2018 the gubernatorial election there Ron DeSantis won by a very narrow margin against Andrew Gilliam yes and when you got down beneath the numbers the margin of African music this is the Republican white Republican and Gilliam Democrat African American man yes when you when you look down at the the numbers beneath the vote totals the percentage of African American females that voted for Ron DeSantis was double what anyone would have predicted or expected and I believe and many others believe it is largely attributable to the fact that Andrew Gilliam said I'm going to eliminate your choices and programs for education in Florida and Rhonda Santos said I'm going to not only support them but I'm going to expand them which by the way he and the legislature did the last week well so those moms voted for their kids I I believe that that is probably the best argument you can make for why those why those percentages were as significant as they were all right on to the other big issue that has so far defined your time as Secretary by the way you've been secretary since more or less the beginning of the administration and it makes you one of the old-timers in this administration all right you and title nine this takes a moment or two to set up but it's important so let me go ahead and do this 2011 the Obama administration the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights sent a Dear Colleague letter to all the nation's colleges and universities warning them that they needed to do more to prevent sexual violence among students or lose federal funding the point of this is that title 9 is the 1972 law that prohibits sex discrimination at federally funded institutions okay now I'm quoting the New Yorker magazine which summed this up better than any place else I could find it universities reacted with panicked over compliance in recent years that has become commonplace to deny accused students access to the complaint the evidence the identity of the witnesses and to forbid them from questioning complainants or witnesses close quote so something happens between a young man and a young woman the young woman calls foul and the young man has no way of knowing exactly what the charges are there's no opportunity to grow all right you Secretary DeVos withdrew Viad mama administration's to your colleague letter this gets complicated so I'm keep looking at you to make sure I've got it right you've proposed new rules under your proposal schools would be required to employ a presumption of innocence you have returned schools to the 800 year anglo-saxon tradition of presumption of innocence to explain allegations to both parties to give both parties access to evidence to hold live hearings and to allow for cross-examination okay now to a layman like me that sounds like common sense you've simply said to universities and colleges sorry you've need to do this according to the standards that we all consider just in the anglo-saxon legal tradition but boy have you been criticized for it and let me begin with this simple question the Obama administration sends that letter in 2011 you don't be take office until 2017 six colleges and universities had their legal departments go through they've learned how to live with it so why did you why did you why did you pull back the Obama letter and propose your new rules well let me first say that one sexual assault on a campus is one too many and I think we need to get to a point of education and prevention but the reality is we have these incidents and I heard from both those who had been survivors of sexual assault as well as those who were falsely accused and then also from institutions and individuals at institutions that have had to deal with the deal the Dear Colleague letter and all of the implications there and the bottom line was for all too many of them it was simply not working and we determined that we had to clarify and come get to a point of where students all are treated fairly and they no predictable framework that institutions will no a predictable framework under which to operate and so we set about with a very prescribed process of negotiated rulemaking or rulemaking that will ultimately result in a regulation that everybody will be able to rely on so that's all different so it's it's a very lengthy rules right now there's a comment period yes it was public comment period we got over a hundred twenty thousand comments and are in the process of reviewing all of those now and responding to those and after that is completed then a final rule will be issued any idea what's the timelines that a year away it's months and and and we think it's important for for students particularly but also for institutions to know know the deal and be able to count on it the American Civil Liberties Union the ACLU says your proposed rules would quote make schools less safe for survivors of sexual assault and harassment close quote and the underlying argument there and as best I can tell really the nub of the argue of the criticisms you've been receiving run as follows that particularly young women but those who are at the receiving end of sexual harassment require special attention and care that the usual rules of jurisprudence are really too rough too crude and that unless you you permit them you protect them from serious cross examination unless you do what the Obama administration had universities and colleges do you're being unfair you're just you're going to suppress the problem because people won't have the guts to come forward and go through this process so how do you answer you know the argument how do you answer that well again we can't dive too deep into this because of where we are with the rulemaking you're not like there's a certain amount you're not allowed to say but yes but our goal is to ensure that those who have an accusation have lots of options and a lot and a lot of tools and that they ultimately will have the control over what happens once they have if they've had if they have a complaint to lodge we're very sensitive to the fact that that is a very vulnerable situation and we want to ensure that they have all the tools necessary for them to be able to and you know proceed as they as they ultimately decide is right for them do you think when your rules finally come out will they have changed such that the ACLU will support them I can't really comment to that at this moment right I'll try all right one other question about colleges and universities here's President Trump signing an executive order on March 21st quote this is your boss under the policy I am announcing today federal agencies will use their authority under various grant-making programs to ensure that public universities protect the First Amendment rights of their students or risk losing billions of federal dollars close quote Donald J Trump is serious about free speech on campus all right there's a big gap between a presidential statement even a presidential executive order which he's now signed and the rules that have to be promulgated and budgeting processes where does this one stand it's not only on you isn't it on on the Department of Education yes the Department of Education and the Office of Management and Budget are working on what the practical implications of the executive order will end up being but make no mistake the president and this administration is very intent on using the bully pulpit to ensure that free speech is respected and embraced on campuses and so the bully pulpit also money yes well ultimately the grant making process will have some will have something there will be some reference to the the free speech and the embracing of free speech is on campus free speech on campus but the the process for promulgating any kind of rules there's another long one that's well it's it's yes it's that months or years that's months months okay all right student debt you gave a speech on student debt last fall in which you laid out some statistics that I have to say are staggering they are breathtaking longish quotation but again this is important to set it up this is quoting you last year uncollateralized student loans which are all of them by the way accounted at 1.5 trillion for over 30 percent of all federal assets in the commercial world I'm still quoting you know bank regulator would allow this portfolio to be valued at full face value only 24 percent of borrowers one-in-four are currently paying down both principal and interest this is unbelie– 20 percent of all loans are delinquent or in default that's 7 times the rate of delinquency on credit card debt the federal government says secretary Betsy DeVos must become a more responsible lender close quote a loan portfolio of 1.5 trillion dollars many of whom are not paying that back represents a lousy loan portfolio but a big political constituency what are you gonna be able to do to make sure that the federal government does become a more responsible lender well it's a very good question and it's a multi-faceted answer there are things that Congress is going to have to consider and they're going to have to be they're going to have to understand what the current reality is and what the downstream implications are to the fact that over 40 percent right now are not current on their loan payments and are in fact many who have gone into these inferences well they they have Laird yeah but they've layered and layered multiple different complications on to this whole student loan process you know the average student has four point six different loans today so they're they're working with different loan servicers the experience is frustrating to say the you know the least and so we have what we're doing administrative Lea internally in the department is actually modernizing the whole framework for Federal Student Aid and providing a whole lot more information upfront to students students will be able to go to the college scorecard website and get program level data around the cost of programs at every institution and what they're likely earn 'uncle is you and Madam Secretary that sounds good but I've got an even better idea yeah actually senator Warren Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has a better idea quote I'm quoting presidential candidate Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren we have a huge student loan burden that's crushing millions of families and acting as an anchor on our economy like we got into this crisis because state governments and the federal government decided that instead of treating higher education like our public school system free and accessible to all Americans they'd rather cut taxes for billionaires and giant corporations close quote let's just make it all free well there's plenty of presidential candidates that are suggesting that I think we ought to talk with two out of the three Americans that don't pursue higher education and see if they want to be a part of underwriting that all right our time is limited alas this is we could go on and on here's the last question for you you spoke last year at the commencement ceremony of a historically black institution bethune-cookman university and take a moment to look at what happened graduates would you please be seated [Applause] as I said I'm very grateful for the opportunity to be with you today while we will undoubtedly disagree at times I hope we can do so respectfully let's choose to hear one another out okay it says something that they invited you but there was two years ago sorry it says something good that the university invited you and I know administrators were there helping to get you through that speech but look at that so here's the question you had a good life back in Michigan you come from a very successful family you came from a successful family you're you're you married into another family of means and you were able to use your wealth to support causes that you believed in you were a generous philanthropist you are hardworking and causes that you believed in and it was a lovely life as far as I can tell you don't need this what are you doing why don't you just say mr. president I'm now one of your longest-serving cabinet ministers but frankly I've had it up to here see you in Michigan because I I believe every child should have an equal shot at a great future and that one of the fundamental parts of that is a great education and I've spent over 30 years of my life advocating for that in policy and politics and this is an opportunity to continue that work at a whole different level as you're able that this strange job in this department that's only existed since 1970 all you are able to do good you're able to make progress you feel that I do I do I wouldn't be here if I if I didn't all right Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos thank you thanks Peter for uncommon knowledge the Hoover Institution and Fox Nation I'm Peter Robinson you

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