Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is expected to offer details about the Trump administration’s vision for a federal investment in school choice in a major policy speech Monday.
DeVos is slated to speak at an Indianapolis summit hosted by her former group, The American Federation for Children, which advocates for school choice, the Education Department confirmed Wednesday night.
She is believed to be preparing to unveil an education tax credit scholarship proposal, which the Trump administration has been considering for some time, according to multiple sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it. What DeVos is expected to outline could look different than a bill pushed by Republicans Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Todd Rokita of Indiana. If passed by Congress, the proposal could channel billions of public dollars to working class families to help them pay for private schools, including schools.
DeVos is expected to stress that the Trump administration won’t mandate school choice and will emphasize state flexibility, sources say. For example, she may say that states would have the right to opt out of a federal plan and should be the ones to designate entities that accept donations from individuals and corporations and award tuition support to families.
A federal plan could award tax credits to individuals, corporations, or both, in exchange for their donations to those organizations. It could be part of a larger tax reform bill and pass through the budget reconciliation process with only 51 votes in the Senate. That said, it’s unclear how the Trump administration’s ability to accomplish tax reform — or other policy priorities, for that matter — may be affected by the scandals engulfing the White House.
American Federation for Children spokesman Tommy Schultz said in a statement that Congress and the Trump administration “have a unique window of opportunity to facilitate a dramatic expansion of parental choice in America. More than 3.5 million children are currently benefiting from charters and private choice programs, while millions more are demanding access to these same options.”
“… We’re hopeful that Congress and the administration will rise to the occasion and act boldly to help these kids access a school of their parents’ choice,” he said.
During a school visit in Utah earlier this month, DeVos said that more information on the administration’s plan for school choice is forthcoming, saying she expects “we’ll be seeing something from both the administration and that Congress will consider at some point in the not-too-distant future.”
DeVos is the former chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, which advocates for tax credit scholarships and vouchers. She and her husband also donated a total of $200,000 to AFC’s charitable arm in 2014 and 2015 through the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. DeVos stepped down as AFC chair last year after President Donald Trump nominated her for secretary.
DeVos signed an ethics agreement earlier this year, saying that for a period of one year following her resignation from the American Federation for Children and its charitable arm, “I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which I know that entity is a party or represents a party, unless I am first authorized to participate.”
The Education Department said DeVos’ designated ethics official found no conflict with her addressing AFC in her official capacity, a spokesman said Monday.
Nonetheless, legal experts at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a progressive government watchdog group, questioned DeVos’ choice to deliver a policy speech at an event sponsored by the advocacy group. They questioned whether there was "any compelling need" for her to give a speech at that group’s event rather than at one given by another organization.
Michael Stratford contributed to this report.