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Does Trump's proposed expansion of school choice shortchange rural Georgia?

U.S. Secretary of Education and champion of school choice Betsy DeVos continues to promise schools that her U.S. Department of Education will grant them more flexibility and freedom from federal oversight.

What she doesn’t mention is they will also get less money. As I have pointed out many times related to the Georgia General Assembly's pledge of more flexibility as a counterbalance to its education cuts, you can't pay for lights and heat with flexibility.

DeVos and President Donald Trump propose relying more on vouchers and charter schools to educate America’s children, but neither charters nor vouchers is a likely reform strategy for rural areas. Most rural areas have few private schools, and they lack the conditions needed to attract the successful charter school networks. While three-quarters of urban students have the option of enrolling in another nearby school, federal data show only 21 percent of rural students with that same access.

Nationwide, rural schools enroll 25 percent of America's students. About 16 percent of charters are in rural areas. However, most high-performing charters schools are in urban areas. The top charters rely on donations to supplement state funding, and most corporate donors favor higher profile urban areas. Charters also need a young and strong teaching pool, and that's a struggle in rural areas. (Ask traditional public schools in rural regions how hard it is to recruit a physics or German teacher.)

Trump's education budget cuts 13.6 percent or $9.2 billion from ED. The budget creates a new billion dollar federal grant program under Title I to allow students to take federal, state, and local dollars to their public school of choice. Among the losers from the proposed cuts: After-school programs, teacher and principal training, career and technical education and health.

A board of education member from southern rural Georgia sent a letter to Georgia Senators David Perdue and Johnny Isakson about the budget. Grady County school board member Laura Register says it will hurt to rural school systems.  Here is the letter.

Dear Senators,

I am writing with deep concern for our public education system. When the Georgia School Boards Association representatives spoke with you both this past February, Sen. Isakson assured us that he had talked with Betsy DeVos and “had her under control” and all would be fine. With the newly revealed slashing of public ed funds in favor of vouchers and charter schools (privately owned not public charters) I am holding a great faith in you both to rein in this irresponsible budget and the disastrous  policy direction,

I was at a school the Monday after spring break. The principal had to go and bring to school a young child. During the break the child had been hardly fed and almost ignored. When he was brought to school, the principal fed him and cared for him, settling him down so he could join his class and start the learning process for the day.

What do vouchers and charters do for this child?

They cut into his free breakfast and lunch funding. They cut into the already limited resources the schools have to provide a conducive learning environment.

Senators, you both understand the importance of public education. You both know how limited we are in rural areas and what these cuts mean to the kids most at risk in our country…not just our state but ALL kids!

PLEASE, speak with Mrs. DeVos and try to restore the proven methods that work in education. Privatization and vouchers are proven to hurt education not help it.

Thanks for all you do,

Laura Register

Grady County Board of Education


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.