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DEREK BLACK on Betsy Devos

Derek Black, the author of Schoolhouse Burning, joins Kanew to talk about the assault on public education and how it not only threatens our education system but American democracy itself.

Betsy Devos In Nashville TODAY To Help “Advance God’s Kingdom” With Lee’s School Vouchers

Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy Devos – most recently seen trying to cut funding from the Special Olympics (because that’s What Jesus Would Do, right?) – is in town TODAY to help Governor Lee push his school vouchers plan (aka “Education Savings Accounts”) which passed the House Education Committee last week.

Supporters of the vouchers say they will help some kids in failing schools escape to a better education.

Opponents say we shouldn’t be steering public money away from already struggling public schools to do that, that it amounts to the privatization of education, and that the private schools in receipt of the money wouldn’t be subject to the same kind of accountability, and would be able to discriminate against certain kids using public funds.

(Watch our highlights of the Education Committee debate HERE.)

The TEA says Vouchers have been a “disaster” where implemented and remains against them, as are a number of other organizations.

Many of the schools on the list of Tennessee schools which would accept the vouchers are small Christian schools. This is noteworthy because of an interview Devos and her husband gave in 2001 in which they answered the question of why she wasn’t just focused on funding private Christian schools on her own by saying they were looking for a greater opportunity to “advance God’s kingdom”.

Listen to 90 seconds of the interview:

The audio clip, which was exclusively obtained by Politico, reveals how the religion of the Devos family fuels their drive to reform public education. It comes from the 2001 edition of a conference known as The Gathering, an annual meeting of some of the nation’s most wealthy Christians.

The interviewer asks:

“Wouldn’t it have been easier to simply fund Christian private schools and be done with it?”

Betsy Devos answers:

“There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education.”

The couple goes on to describe school choice as leading to “greater kingdom gain” explaining how public education has “displaced” the church as the center of communities, and said providing parents with school choice is one way to undo that displacement.

They say their work is an effort to remain active in the “Shephelah”, a region they learned about on a trip to Israel, which is supposedly where David and Goliath fought, which represents a public forum where the influence of the church is needed, rather than fleeing to the hills to live comfortably. Congregations looking to support their church’s activities may want to read more about mobile giving apps and how they can be used to make financial donations to their place of worship. Churches with lofty aspirations often need additional monetary aid in order to see their plans through to fruition.

Betsy Devos:

“Our desire is to be in that Shephelah, and to confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God’s Kingdom, but not to stay in our own faith territory.”

Her husband Dick then adds:

“We could run away and just go back up in the hills and live very safely and very comfortably – or are we going to exist in the Shephelah and try to impact the view of the community around us with the ideas we believe are more powerful ideas of a better way to live one’s life and a more meaningful and a more rewarding way to live one’s life as a Christian?”

(Their talk does not touch on LGBT issues, but Politico points out that “Other members of the DeVos family have contributed to anti-LGBT causes; there have been conflicting reports about the work by Betsy DeVos and her husband in this arena.”)

Governor Lee, who is a driving force behind this legislation, makes no secret about his religious beliefs, often bringing up his faith in ads and campaign stops during his race.

Tennessee is a largely Christian state, as is America on the whole, and everyone should be free to practice their own faith, but a valid question remains: Should government money help finance religious education?

Religion is central to the school choice debate. There’s concern about the effects of blurring the line of church-state separation, something which we see plenty of in the state legislature these days as the anti-LGBT “slate of hate” snakes it’s way through the process.

The courts have been mixed on the issue of sending public money to private schools, but in 2006 the Florida Supreme Court did strike down a school voucher plan in the state, saying that the program was unconstitutional and that it channeled tax dollars into “separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools.”

Tennessee is 45th in spending per pupil.

The vouchers bill is heading towards a floor vote in the house, and it is likely to have support in the senate, where Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson has already said he supports them “1000%” but made it clear he intends to keep them far away from Williamson County, where he, Speaker Casada, and Governor Lee all live.

Devos will have company today. If you want to join Indivisible to *welcome* her to Tennessee, holler at them HERE. And holler at Governor Lee HERE.

Williamson County’s Sen. Jack Johnson: “SCHOOL VOUCHERS FOR THEE, NOT FOR ME”

Fireworks about Speaker Casada’s support for Rep. David Byrd grabbed the headlines at a Williamson County town hall Friday morning when Lawrence County resident Ashley Massey confronted the rest of the Williamson delegation about the issue – prompting Rep. Sam Whitson to get up and leave the event.

Whitson took heat for his actions on social media. He later said he had told the audience he would be leaving early, but not stopping to apologize to an emotional Massey raised some eyebrows.

Whitson deserves more credit than Speaker Casada though, who was conveniently a no-show despite having been scheduled to be there, leaving his colleagues to handle his mess in front of CNN cameras.

As Massey spoke, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson sat silently. The incident took the focus away from the policy discussions that had taken place earlier in the morning, where Johnson had more to say, particularly on the issue of school vouchers.

The idea behind vouchers, which are supported by Governor Lee, is that students in struggling Tennessee schools should be able to take the taxpayer dollars and use them towards tuition at other schools, including private schools.

It’s an issue that has become a source of contention throughout the country, particularly as Secretary of Education Betsy Devos has championed it despite “dismal” results in areas that have tried them.

Critics are concerned taking public dollars away from public schools do nothing to solve the issue of having troubled schools, and instead simply make matters worse for the kids who are left behind.

Some feel the agenda is being pushed on behalf of private religious school lobbyists, particularly Christian schools, which have their eyes on public dollars yet are not required to observe the same rules as public schools, meaning public dollars would be subsidizing schools that discriminate against certain communities with impunity, and who aren’t required to follow the same codes of conduct.

Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos famously replied:

“There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”

Public schools in rural communities would be acutely impacted, as private schools in those areas could theoretically be created to vulture those much-needed dollars away.

It’s worth noting that the idea of vouchers began when schools were desegregated and some white parents in the South didn’t want their children to go to school with black children.

At the town hall, Rep. Whitson said vouchers were going to be a difficult fight in the TN House, where there were strong feelings on both sides of the issue. Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) on the other hand said he supported vouchers “1000%” – although in the next breath he made it clear they would in no way affect Williamson County, which is where he lives, and which is where the town hall was being held:

He reiterated the point during the Q & A session when Franklin Alderman Bev Burger spoke up in support of vouchers, which she mistakenly appeared to believe would mean more money for the city.

They would not.

Johnson again hammered home the point that his pro-voucher stance is for all parts of Tennessee aside from Williamson County, which begs the question: If vouchers are a good thing for every other part of the state, why is Johnson being so careful to make sure the voters who vote for HIM know THEIR schools won’t be impacted?

Tennessee ranks near the bottom in per-student spending. If Johnson is concerned with Tennessee having “failing” schools, how about maybe addressing that problem itself by spending more money to fix that issue, rather than steering money away from those schools towards private schools owned by those who have money for lobbyists?

Imagine for a second a town. There’s one road in, one road out. The road has been decimated by a flood. There’s no way to drive on it. People can’t get out.

Now imagine if instead of fixing that road, the state offered to pay for helicopters for just a handful of kids whose parents can afford to pay for a portion of the helicopters themselves. What are the kids who can’t afford it supposed to do? How are they supposed to get out?

Vouchers don’t fix the issue of failing schools. Vouchers pick winners and losers, making the problem worse for a majority of students. If the governor wants to add money to help kids in failing schools and start a scholarship program, great.

But steering public dollars away from already struggling public schools is not a solution.

There’s a reason county commissions and school boards throughout the state are passing resolutions against them. Holler at yours if you think they should also, and holler at Jack Johnson to let him know you see his hypocrisy.

If vouchers are bad for Williamson County, they’re bad for the rest of Tennessee.

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