Prepared Remarks by Secretary DeVos at the American Enterprise Institute

Archived Information

Prepared Remarks by Secretary DeVos at the American Enterprise Institute

October 1, 2019

Thank you all, and thank you to the American Enterprise Institute for hosting this important forum today. Robert Doar, thanks for your hospitality and your principled conservative leadership, especially now in your new role. It's always a pleasure to be back here with so many friends.

Our ideas are advanced by the work of this Institute. There are many here who have worked for the cause of education freedom and for our Nation's students, especially Rick Hess and Nat Malkus. I'm looking forward to our conversation.

We're here to talk about Education Freedom Scholarships. Let me just say a few things about our proposal to set the table before our discussion.

Here's what it is: a five billion dollar annual Federal income tax credit for voluntary contributions to 501(c)(3), non-profit organizations that provide scholarships to students.

The key element of the proposal is freedom. Freedom for everyone involved. Students, families, teachers, schools, states—any and all can choose to participate in the program. Or they can elect not to participate. That's what freedom is all about.

We know gaining this freedom will require more work in some states than others—and in that body up the hill. But as more states offer more options to families, demand will rise and pressure will mount on those who have not yet embraced the opportunity.

Ultimately, Education Freedom Scholarships require only one thing: students and parents must be empowered to make decisions and choices.

It should come as no surprise to anyone in this room why we've stepped forward with a bold, transformative idea for students.

American education isn't working for too many of them. We've known this for more than 35 years. The devastating landmark report, "A Nation at Risk," detailed the dire state of American education and warned us all: "History is not kind to idlers."

Well, if there's any word to describe too many parts of American education—then and today—it's "idle."

You've seen our Nation's Report Card. You know what I mean. Two in three of our Nation's 8th graders aren't proficient in any core subject.

We also know this: the United States ranks an embarrassing 24th in reading, 25th in science, and 40th in math in the world.

You've heard me talk about these results before, and I don't take any pleasure in reminding anyone about them. Yet there are many who pay lip service to the sorry state of affairs in American education, but offer more and more of the same as a solution.

More spending, more regulation, more government.

They assure us that this time, it will work; this time, it will be different.

Yet, as it is said in these halls, we are being "mugged by reality" daily.

That's why now is the time to do something different. Something better. Embrace the thing that makes America great: Freedom.

The freedom to learn. The freedom to grow. The freedom to rise. The freedom to pursue happiness.

On this we can all agree—or at least, we should be able to.

I remain dumbfounded that some conservatives who masquerade as education reformers have criticized this proposal.

Who would have thought that Sen. Ted Cruz or I of all people would be accused of trying to grow the federal government? Think about that for a minute.

You all know me. I've fought alongside you for more than 30 years to expand the freedom of families and to diminish the role of government in our lives. I wouldn't support something that violates my principles, and ours.

So, here's what our Education Freedom Scholarships proposal doesn't do. It doesn't grow the government bureaucracy one tiny bit. It doesn't create a new government "Office of School Choice." It doesn't impose any new requirements on states or on families.

It doesn't take a single dollar from public school students and it doesn't spend a single dollar of government money. And it doesn't entangle schools with federal strings or stifling red tape.

In fact, it can't. And that's by design.

The truth is our proposal is a highly efficient and effective way of funding education. It connects the dollars to the students, not "the system"—with no bureaucratic sponge in between.

Education Freedom Scholarships are the conservative answer to what ails American education.

They also happen to be the answer that a super-majority of parents, particularly African American and Hispanic parents, say they're looking for. They are the reason education freedom is on the march from Florida to Pennsylvania, from Illinois to Arizona, and many places in between.

I've just come back from a tour across the Midwest to highlight the opportunities education freedom will provide. At every stop, I heard from students, families, teachers and local lawmakers about how education freedom is changing lives.

But I also heard the loud voices of bullies who are threatened by that freedom.

Now, it's their right to demonstrate and to protest and to say sick things. What worries me, though, is the message they're sending to students and parents.

Big Union bullying is flat out unjust. It's unfair to the many students and parents who simply want better futures for their sons and daughters.

I've been blessed to get to know many, many families who exercise education freedom. Many have low-incomes. Many are Black or Hispanic. Many are burning the candle at both ends to help their children have a better life.

They aren't "anti-public school" or "for privatization." They couldn't care less about how a school is legally structured or how the funds flow.

They care about their kids.

They care about them getting a great education. They care about them being safe. They care about how schools can help them prepare their children for successful careers and meaningful lives.

On the other hand, union bosses don't put kids first. They don't put kids' futures first. They put themselves first.

Look no further than West Virginia. Many of us remember the first strike, which kept students from learning for two weeks. The second strike is far more telling.

There was already a deal in place for yet another pay raise. So, why did union bosses force another strike?

Because the bill would have also allowed for "up to" seven public charter schools, and would have created ESAs for a very small number of families. Maybe enough to benefit less than one third of one percent—about 1,000 of West Virginia's nearly 300,000 K-12 students.

This is clearly anti-parent and anti-student.

Education freedom is pro-parent and pro-student. It is not anti-public school. If your school is working for your child, stay put. One parent's freedom to make a choice doesn't mean anyone else has to make the same choice. Education freedom isn't about elevating one type of school over another—it's about trusting parents and believing in students.

My mission is to unleash a new era of innovation in education to drive unprecedented achievement. It will happen in public and private schools alike, and we should embrace that. Our obligation isn't to any type of school—it's to students. America's students can lead the world, because America must continue to lead the world.

It's time we put them first, and that's exactly what Education Freedom Scholarships will do. Thank you and I look forward to our conversation.