Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fumbled through questions about school choice during a 60 Minutes interview on Sunday night as she tried to claim that charter schools she has long advocated for improve traditional, public schools. But she couldn’t say if her theory applied to her home state of Michigan when pressed by Lesley Stahl.
“I hesitate to talk about all schools in general... Michigan schools need to do better,” said DeVos.
Before joining the Trump administration, DeVos advocated for school choice—spending money meant for public schools on charter and other private schools—in Michigan as a lobbyist for the American Federation for Children. School choice supporters call for public funding, typically in the form of vouchers, to be given to students who want to go to private schools. According to an in-depth Washington Post report, The DeVos family backed the Great Lakes Education Project, which lobbied legislators to lift a cap, which was lifted in 2011, on the number of charter schools allowed in Michigan.
“I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming,” in Michigan, DeVos said. “Maybe I should.”
Recent test scores indicate that maybe DeVos should check in on Michigan. Students at many Michigan schools, particularly charter schools, are underperforming.
From 2016 to 2017, English scores for students between third and eighth grade dropped in all but one grade, according to yearly test scores released by the Michigan Department of Education. For the past three years, less than half of students from the third grade to the eighth have tested at a proficient reading level.
Michigan has the highest number of for-profit charter schools in the nation, according to a 2013 report from the National Education Policy Center at University of Colorado. Students at these schools don’t perform as well as students at nonprofit charter schools, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University reported in 2017. Thirty-eight percent of charter schools were below the 25 percentile ranking of Michigan schools, the Detroit Free Press reported in 2014.
“What they’ve done here in our state is drain about a billion dollars a year from our education budget for traditional and public schools,” David Crane, a spokesperson for the Michigan Education Association, told The Daily Beast.
“All schools have a hard time improving when they’re stripped of a billion dollars of funding,” added Crane.
As the Detroit Free Press reported in 2014, $1 billion of the public school budget goes to charter schools, and 140,000 children attend them. The report also stated that 61 percent of the 370 charter schools in Michigan were owned by for-profit companies. There are 60 charter schools in Detroit as of the 2017-18 school year, according to Michigan Association of School Academies.
When asked about DeVos’ interview, Michigan Department of Education told The Daily Beast, “We would welcome her better understanding and support.”
Correction: This article previously misquoted DeVos on Michigan schools.