Pence: Black Is White

National media outlets report that Mike Pence is again touting the virtues of “school choice.” Evidently, in the alternate reality that he and Betsy DeVos inhabit, vouchers and other “choice” programs are working wonderfully.

The evidence suggests otherwise–unless by “working,” they mean subsidizing religious schools and benefitting business’ bottom line.

Two recent reports, one from the Washington Post and another, lengthy investigation from the New York Times, convincingly rebut Pence’s sunny view of these programs. The Post article begins with the contrast between Pence’s reality and the one the rest of us inhabit:

The Trump administration has made the District’s federally mandated school voucher program Exhibit A in its campaign to allow public funds to flow to private schools. Vice President Pence has called the 13-year-old D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program a “case study in school choice success.”

In truth, the performance of the D.C. voucher program calls into question the wisdom of spending upward of $200 million in federal tax money on private schooling in a city where students already have many educational choices. And it’s a cautionary tale of how badly crafted voucher initiatives can hurt the very students they’re designed to help.

The article details “disappointing” student achievement, poor oversight, and a lack of available information that would allow parents to make informed choices. As a result, significant numbers of eligible families turn down the vouchers.

The Times article is a lengthy, detailed look at Betsy DeVos’ home state of Michigan, and its embrace of for-profit charter schools.

Michigan’s aggressively free-market approach to schools has resulted in one of the most deregulated educational environments in the country, a laboratory in which consumer choice and a shifting landscape of supply and demand (and profit motive, in the case of many charters) were pitched as ways to improve life in the classroom for the state’s 1.5 million public-school students. But a Brookings Institution analysis done this year of national test scores ranked Michigan last among all states when it came to improvements in student proficiency. And a 2016 analysis by the Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan education policy and research organization, found that 70 percent of Michigan charters were in the bottom half of the state’s rankings. Michigan has the most for-profit charter schools in the country and some of the least state oversight. Even staunch charter advocates have blanched at the Michigan model.

The article makes an important point: it’s impossible to understand what happened in  Michigan’s schools unless you recognize that for-profit schools aren’t in the business of education; they are in the business of business.  These charters have become “potential financial assets to outside entities, inevitably complicating their broader social missions.”

The key phrase in the above paragraph is “broader social mission.” Unlike voucher schools, which are private and inevitably siphon resources from the public system, it is possible to operate charters successfully as options within a public school system. I would argue, however, that (a) the use of for-profit entities to manage such schools is incompatible with their social mission, and (b) strict oversight by and accountability to the relevant school board is essential.

The reason we call them public schools is because they serve a critical public function.

In the absence of any credible evidence that privatizing our schools improves either educational or civic outcomes, we should direct our energies–and our tax dollars–to improving our public systems.


  1. Rev Pence is really just trying to use our tax dollars to promote HIS religion.
    As Trump would say,

  2. “In the absence of any credible evidence that privatizing our schools improves either educational or civic outcomes, we should direct our energies–and our tax dollars–to improving our public systems.”

    The words “absence of any credible evidence” in this blog is another way of saying “Not getting caught in a lie is the same as the truth.” from the movie “Three Days of the Condor”; both are saying “A lie told often enough will be believed as the truth.” And today’s students will be handed the bill for this form of profiteering through education and they are uneducated and unfit to lead when their turn comes around. Indiana is leading the nation in voucher students; all thanks to Daniels and Pence with promotion from Trump and DeVos as today’s leaders. We need no future visit from them to be reminded of this fact. “Honest To Goodness Indiana” needs to be changed to “WTF Indiana?”

  3. All of this support of religious schools with our tax dollars begs the question, “What is wrong with these religious institutions that they cannot support themselves?”

  4. Theresa Bowers asks a relevant question: why can’t the religious schools support themselves? The answer is simple. Why should they, when the state will throw money their way? And money is the name of the game these days, isn’t it?

  5. When charter schools were authorized in Indiana, private school enrollment drastically declined. The inner cities where most parochial schools were located were already declining in enrollment as inner populations and public school enrollments also declined. Interestingly, public schools were told to close buildings, and their funds were cut, forcing them to do so (a phenomenon which continues). But private schools were given public monies that had previously gone to public schools to keep the private schools open and to spur enrollment. The recession and property tax caps pummeled public school finances in two additional ways, creating a perfect storm that has forced public school reductions in faculty, increased class-sizes, fewer course offerings, unstaffed libraries, teacher shortages, and more.

    Indiana’s legislature has made no effort to repair this quadruple whammy to public school funds – all while requiring multiple changes in academic standards, more testing, and more accountability.

    Somehow, our public schools continue to outpace the majority of charter schools, despite enrolling a much higher proportion of special ed. and English-language-learners than do charter and voucher schools. When accounting for these demographic differences, public schools perform as well or better than voucher schools as well.

    If I had a private swimming pool rather than using the public pool at a city park, city government wouldn’t give me a voucher to help me pay for my private pool. But the city does have an obligation to use its funds to maintain and operate the public pool and pay the lifeguards. Would we really want to dismiss lifeguards and cut back on chlorine at the public pool to subsidize those with private pools?

  6. Nothing wrong if you consider that they have discovered the government teat to suck on, that mythology which the newly-entitled have claimed and repeated ad nauseam is the great sucking noise from the poor , the “un-entitled”.and other underclasses.

  7. I know this may shock some folks, but Betsy was lying. Same with the Broads, Kochs and Waltons. Same with Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics.

    The ONLY reason for charters is to privatize public education to eliminate the teachers unions. Period.

    All the rhetoric from Pence and Betsy are cover for this one main goal. They could easily reform public education to be more ed tech driven but the number one goal is killing off any form of workers union.

    American workers are just standing around wondering why incomes are stuck in the 90’s. It’s by design. Look who is funding these reforms.

    Follow the money…

  8. If all local, state and national governments concentrated on giving the public two things … jobs and education … I can’t help but believe that most of our nation’s problems would be solved. The supposedly poor people would be able to buy things. The supposedly ignorant people would have a product to sell … themselves. And the greedy people would be forced to treat others as they insist that others treat them.

  9. “In the absence of any credible evidence that privatizing our schools improves either educational or civic outcomes, we should direct our energies–and our tax dollars–to improving our public systems.”

    Nothing else really needs to be said and anyone who says otherwise for whatever reason needs to be directed to the nearest dustbin of contemporary history.

  10. Pence is not the first politician to tout the virtues of school choice, and actually, he’s rather late to the game. To better understand school choice, especially charter schools, it’s important to trace the origins of the charter school movement from its first documented inception in 1974.

    Attached is a well-documented timeline that provides an overview charting the expansion of the charter school movement that subsequently opened the door for school vouchers. It’s a quick read and worth a couple of minutes of your time.

  11. HERE IS THE ISSUE…..taxpayers…poor and rich….CAN ONLY SEND CHILDREN TO THE SCHOOL DISTRICT in which they live. SO….a poor family HAS NO CHOICE. A rich family can go anywhere and pay tuition. POOR FAMILIES are discriminated against in education because they HAVE NO CHOICE based on their socioeconomic status.

  12. Unfortunely, the Trump/Pence supporters do not read Washington Post or NY Times. The damage will continue.

  13. Why can’t religions schools support themselves? They can – through charging tuition to people who are already paying taxes to support public schools. This also means that only people with a certain income can afford it. If you think that government subsidies would siphon money from public schools, you must acknowledge that is is because it is going where the students are. Why does no one point out that, if all private schools closed, the public schools would require that money to handle the increase in students? Our church’s K-8 school is accredited. Our graduates regularly perform at the top of their classes when they go on to the public school. No one expects government money to pay for the religious portion of the curriculum, but vouchers are a fair and equitable solution to paying for the rest.

  14. The public schools are a disaster, especially in the low income area’s. I refuse to put my kids in them and am paying nearly $2000 a month for private schools. So yea, I wouldn’t mind a voucher system to get reimbursed some of that money. Yea, my car has 200,000 miles on it and it will be tough to afford a new one but my kids education is more important. My daughter was learning cursive in first grade while the public schools in my area don’t start teaching that until 4th grade. I’d love to see the public schools return to educating but that ship has sailed. They’ve traded in the three R’s for progressive indoctrination and no matter how much money you throw at them, it won’t help.

  15. “In the absence of any credible evidence that privatizing our schools improves either educational or civic outcomes, we should direct our energies–and our tax dollars–to improving our public systems.” Uh, strike the last three words. “Our public systems” should read “PARENTS”.

    Thus: “In the absence of any credible evidence that privatizing our schools improves either educational or civic outcomes, we should direct our energies–and our tax dollars–to improving PARENTS.”

    Improved parenting would enable ANY school system that you prefer–private, religious, public, charter, online, cheap, la-dee-da, or combo–to output a more competent and educated citizenry.

    The election of Trump is proof piled upon proof that our national problem is the parents.

  16. Sheila has done a good job in identifying the problems and purposes of the ongoing privatization of public education and Nancy has excelled in her essay. I have nothing to add other than to keep an eye out for Wall Street’s securitization of charter schools now that our treasury is a cash cow for such schools. Next up – Social Security.

  17. America has prospered because we developed an educated work force through public education. Since the 1960’s our chic systems that helped us to prosper have eroded our educational systems. Parents are no longer involved in insisting that their children attend classes, participate in public discourse, accept personal responsibility, and maintain our values. Last year the Governor of NM published letters she had received from high school students related to a protest of the PARCC testing. I was embarrassed to admit I lived in NM! Mistakes in spelling, grammar, and sentence structure was abysmal. If we are going to improve our educational system we are going to invest heavily in elementary and middle schools so children come to high school with good reading, writing, composition and comprehension skills. This in addition to skills needed in math, science, civics, and history.

  18. The big lie about school choice has always been that there was no choice. Hate to bust that balloon of crap but you have always had a choice, you just didn’t want to pay for it. Now that you have gotten the Republican legislature to pass a law that takes money from the public schools to pay for your child’s private education you are all defensive about your choice that the tax payers are paying for. As for the “public schools are terrible” defense, why didn’t you work through you local public school system to improve things?

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