U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addressed a conservative policy conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. on Thursday, touting her national school choice plan.
DeVos, who was flanked by Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey during a roundtable discussion, also touted several school choice reforms passed by various states in her prepared speech to the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council’s States and Nation Policy Summit.
She cited reforms in West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Arizona and Florida, which recently passed the Family Empowerment Scholarship program that DeVos said is “a model more states should emulate.”
The department’s $5 billion Education Freedom Scholarships proposal would establish a federal tax credit for businesses and individuals who donate to scholarship organizations. States would be able to opt in under the plan and choose participating scholarship organizations, which would then grant scholarships to families and allow them to choose how those scholarships are spent on education.
The scholarships could be used toward private school tuition, home school costs, after-school programs or tutoring, among other options.
“The key element of our Education Freedom Scholarships proposal is, as its name suggests, freedom,” DeVos said. “Freedom for everyone involved. Students, families, teachers, schools, states – any and all can choose whether they participate in the program.”
DeVos said the proposed program would not take any tax dollars away from public education, since it would be funded through donations.
ALEC, which creates model legislation and supports expanding education choice programs, created a model resolution in support of DeVos’s proposal that states can adopt.
“Your support for our Education Freedom Scholarships proposal is so appreciated, and so important,” DeVos added. “ALEC's endorsement tells everyone that our proposal is the conservative, limited government cure for what plagues American education.”
Arizona has a similar Education Savings Account program for special needs students and from low-performing public schools. The program was slated for expansion, but Arizona voters rejected a ballot measure allowing all public school students access to the scholarships.
Several progressive groups joined in a lawsuit this week alleging that Arizona lawmakers are violating state open meeting laws by attending the conservative conference.