The DeVos Education Department’s Five Priorities

Earlier this month, I wrote about the U.S. Education Secretary’s performance before House and Senate appropriations subcommittees. My opinion is that she improved her skills as a presenter a great deal over the last five months, and is staying on message to make her case.

She listed her priorities. There are five. She will be repeating these.

Her overall focus is to increase investment in school choice. She said this focus is “based on my strong belief in the power of markets and competition as drivers of educational quality and accountability.”

Can you list the priorities for public education? I bet most people can’t. In a quick Web search, I had a hard time finding a good, clear summary of the goals of public education advocacy organizations. Mostly, you can find reactions to the attacks from the new Administration. That’s fair, but not enough.

Betsy DeVos is clear. Public education advocates must be clear.

In various documents, the priorities are also called “principles.” The Trump Administration’s FY 2018 Budget Fact Sheet, the principles are called “themes.” Whatever they are called, Sec. DeVos has made them concrete goals and she is determined to stand firm until they are realized.

The most succinct list is on the department’s budget fact sheet. Its headline is “A New Foundation for American Greatness; Prioritizing Students, Empowering Parents.” Sec. DeVos explained in her testimony the budget bottom line – reducing overall funding for Department programs by $9 billion, or 13 percent.

Here are the five priorities taken from the fact sheet, also listed in the DeVos testimony before the congressional panels. The notes in italics are my comments about some of the impacts in each area:

  • Expanding school choice, ensuring more children have an equal opportunity to receive a great education (Budget adds $1.4 billion for school choice).
  • Maintaining strong support for the Nation’s most vulnerable students (Cuts basic Title I and takes $1 million from Title I for school choice grants; IDEA-special education also cut).
  • Continuing to build evidence around educational innovation (Increases general research and support for charter schools, reduces research into instruction, civics, other targeted programs).
  • Simplifying funding for postsecondary education (Overall, significantly less funding for grants and loans to help students go to college).
  • Eliminating or reducing Department programs consistent with the limited Federal role in education (Eliminates funding for Special Olympics, arts education, school leader support, gifted and talented, after school programs, school improvement, literacy, payments for federal property tax loss, and more).

Legislators on both sides of the aisle have said this budget will not pass as presented. So, Sec. DeVos may lose on some of these proposed cuts. But her goals are clear: increase competition and choice, and reduce federal support for public education.

Public advocates might win a budget battle or two, but they must craft a message based on principles that will win over the long haul, and work to meet their goals by highlighting the rich and successful heritage of public education.

They need to be able to articulate what they are for, not just what they are against.

For more details on President Trump’s budget for education:



About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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