(CNSNews.com) – School choice advocate Betsy DeVos, president-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, faces her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee later today following the release of a timely report detailing school choice’s positive societal and economic benefits.
Democrats and teachers unions have harshly criticized DeVos, claiming that expanding school choice would result in the destruction of the public school system.
But the report published last week by the Heartland Institute cites evidence that school choice and the competitive environment it creates among education providers actually improves public education.
Co-authors Peter Ferrara and Lewis Uhler cite years of studies and programs that have provided evidence that allowing parents to send their children to a school of their choice can reduce dropout rates, increase test scores and graduation rates, close achievement gaps between races and income brackets, and catalyze residential and commercial development in competitive school districts.
These findings apply to both public and independent charter schools, according to the report. The net result is reduced crime and increased economic growth.
For example, a study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2011 found that felony arrests of high-risk students who won education choice lotteries decreased by 44 percent. Additionally, after the introduction of a voucher program in the Edgewood Independent School district in San Antonio, Texas, property values in the district rose by 86.4 percent, which was significantly higher than in districts without such programs.
“Education choice increases human capital by increasing student achievement,” resulting in “a lifetime of higher wages and family incomes” for individual students, and also increased economic growth in their communities, the report noted.
DeVos, the daughter-in-law of billionaire Amway cofounder Richard DeVos, has used her wealth and influence to lobby for the expansion of school choice programs nationwide. She currently chairs the American Federation for Children, the nation’s largest school choice advocacy group.
The group recently released a video endorsement of DeVos on Tuesday by former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, a Democrat who fought for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), a school-choice initiative.
Williams said that high school students attending OSP-participating schools for the 2015-2016 school year graduated at a rate of 98 percent, compared to the 69 percent graduation rate of the D.C. Public Schools.
The former mayor offered his “enthusiastic” endorsement of DeVos, calling her a “compassionate leader” and a “proven reformer” who “will challenge an education establishment that has forgotten too many children.”
Speaking at president-elect Trump’s “Thank You” rally in Michigan last month, DeVos declared: “It’s time to make education great again in this country. This means…expanding choices and options to give every child the opportunity for a quality education regardless of their zip code or family circumstances…letting states set their own standards and finally putting an end to the federal Common Core.“
“The answer isn’t bigger government. The answer is local control. It’s listening to parents and it’s giving more choice.”
The Detroit News in DeVos' home state of Michigan has also endorsed her, stating in an editorial that “the hysteria surrounding the West Michigan native, fanned by teachers unions, is overblown, and much of the criticism overlooks the work DeVos has actually done.”
"The narrative pushed by the left is that the city’s experience with charters is a failure. But Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes has studied charter performance in urban areas and found Detroit to be a model for other communities, despite having one of the highest-poverty urban charter populations," the editorial said.
Detroit has the lowest math and reading scores of all large cities in the country, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which issued the city's public schools a dismal report card after its most recent assessment of student achievement in 2015.
HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) tweeted his support for DeVos, calling her an“excellent choice" to head the Department of Education.
Last week, a group of 20 Republican governors sent a letter to Sen. Alexander in support of DeVos, stating their belief that she will “fight to streamline the federal education bureaucracy, return authority back to states and local school boards, and ensure that more dollars are reaching the classroom.”
However, DeVos’ detractors cite her ardent support of school choice, her history as a lobbyist, and the fact that she has never worked in a public school system as reasons not to confirm her.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, issued a statement referring to DeVos as an “ideological, anti-public education nominee” who has “no meaningful experience in the classroom or in our schools” and who “uses her money to game the system and push a special-interest agenda.”
Six Senate Democrats sent her a letter last month stating that DeVos and her family have “spent considerable amounts of money to influence both federal and state government officials over the years.”
“Your active political fundraising of course does not disqualify you from holding public office,” the letter noted, “but it does raise questions about whether you will be able to discharge your duties fairly on behalf of all Americans, including those without the wherewithal to contribute to causes or candidates you support."