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NAACP Argues That DeVos' School Choice Programs Discriminate

WASHINGTON – A coalition of civil rights organizations criticized Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s nominee for education secretary, for her support of charter schools and school choice programs.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said school choice programs weaken the public school system.

“School choice is an interesting phrase because it implies that the choice that parents make is just about the school when in fact school choice really only works for those parents who have other choices – to be able to select a school across town that you think is better means that you have to have the ability to get your child to that school and the ability to pick your child up from that school,” Ifill said on a conference call with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights last week shortly before DeVos’ confirmation hearing.

“You have to have the kinds of networks that will support the child in that school. Your child most often will need to be in a situation where they don’t have special needs, where they don’t need English as a second language, where they don’t have other disabilities that require support within that school,” she added.

Ifill said the notion that every parent is free to choose any school under a school choice or voucher program is “false.”

She argued that the Department of Education’s role should be to ensure the nation’s public school system is “fully” and “equally” funded across school districts.

“Rather than impoverishing some school districts and some schools by removing parents who have the best means and the best mobility from those schools, we should be ensuring that those [public] schools are strong and provide parents with the ultimate choice, which is to send their children to their neighborhood schools, to the school that is closest to them, to the school with which they have a relationship, to the school that allows them to attend PTA meetings and be fully engaged as parents and ensure that school can provide their child with the education that child needs to be a citizen and to be successful,” she said.

Susan Henderson, executive director of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, agreed with Ifill’s assessment. She added that vouchers issued under school choice programs often do not cover the full cost of tuition at private institutions.

“It’s not free for families anymore – they are supplementing out of their own pockets tuition costs or the costs of services their children require, so it really becomes a bad choice for families to take the voucher,” she said.

Fatima Goss Graves, senior vice president for programs at the National Women's Law Center, said her organization opposes DeVos’ nomination because of her “strong advocacy” for choice and her view that charter schools should have hardly any federal oversight.