The following is a transcript of an investigative report on Full Measure News. Click on the link at the end of the transcript to watch the video story.
Across the U.S. students have gone back to school in a lot of different ways. Whether it’s distance learning, hybrid models or shared tutors and it just may be that the coronavirus response has forever altered American education, perhaps sparking more support for what’s called “School Choice.” Today I talk about that with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Sharyl Attkisson: What has it been like leading the Department of Education during a really unprecedented time that came with no playbook?
Betsy DeVos: We’re learning that particularly K-12 education has got to do more to be flexible and responsive and really customized in some way to every child's education. And we've not had a lot of that in K-12 education. So I think it's pushing people in really good and positive ways to think differently about it in the future.
Sharyl: There have been pushes for education reform for many years, but not a lot of agreement on what reforms need to be done. Have you put any thought into the notion that we are sort of going through a forced form of education reform with the changes? Will things ever be the same in our public schools, in our colleges, after these changes and accommodations they've had to make?
DeVos: In places where schools are not being responsive and not meeting the needs of the families and their community, parents are taking their own volition and forming small micro schools or learning pods, as some are calling them, or homeschooling. And I think this is a great development because they're going to be able to assess whether this is the right answer for them longer term or some new combination that they hadn't thought of maybe six months ago. But the students that I'm really concerned about are those that are most vulnerable, whose parents don't have the resources to make these kinds of decisions and hire a tutor or share a teacher with four other families or whatever the case is. And it's really imperative that we advance this notion of school choice, which means empowering those families with the resources that are spent on their children to be able to take and use in the environment that's going to work for their kids.
Sharyl: And in a paragraph or so, what is school choice?
DeVos: School choice is the freedom to take the resources that are already invested in your child and use it to access your child's education in whatever environment is right for that child. I like to picture it as a backpack. Kids take backpacks to school with all their gear every day. Put the resources for that child into that backpack for that child to take whatever school is going to work for him or her based on their parents' observations of that child.
Sharyl: People may not know that easily $10,000 a year is spent educating a child in public school.
DeVos: Actually, it's over $12,000 on average nationally. And right here in the District of Columbia, it's over $30,000.
Sharyl: Is school choice a local decision? In other words, anybody could implement that on a local level?
DeVos: Well, it's really state policy that drives most of school choice decisions. And we're seeing many states implement programs like this today. And I think it's reflective of the fact that more and more families who had not even thought about school choice as something that they might want to access, they are thinking about it more today as they're finding themselves in situations with their kids that simply aren't working.
Sharyl (on camera): There is also a proposal to implement school choice at the federal level: the Republican controlled Senate recently tried to pass a school choice provision as part of the coronavirus aid bill, but the entire measure was pulled before the final vote.