DeVos Slams ‘Union Bullies’ for Opposing Her Plan to Send Federal Tax Dollars to Private and Religious Schools

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos promoted the administration's tuition tax credit plan at the American Enterprise Institute on October 1, 2019 (Photo: Peter Montgomery / Right Wing Watch)

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was the headliner at an American Enterprise Institute event Tuesday morning to promote “Education Freedom Scholarships,” the Trump administration’s education tax credit proposal. In her remarks, DeVos attacked opponents of the plan as “union bullies” and declared that “union bosses don’t put kids first.”

Vilifying teachers’ unions is standard operating procedure for DeVos. In January, she used a Heritage Foundation event marking the avowedly “nonpolitical” National School Choice Week to complain that teachers’ unions were “the only thing standing in the way” of more “school choice.” As Right Wing Watch noted at the time:

DeVos is an old hand at this. She has, in the words of Mother Jones’s Krisina Rizga, been “trying to gut the public schools for years.” Indeed, DeVos and her allies have spent many years and many millions of dollars engaged in bare-knuckled politics to elect politicians who will advance an anti-public-education, anti-labor, pro-privatization agenda, and her family has played a key role in building right-wing anti-public-education infrastructure.

At AEI, DeVos and White House spokesperson Kellyanne Conway promoted the administration’s plan, which was proposed in February but hasn’t moved through either house of Congress. One news report from today’s event called it DeVos’s effort to “breathe new life” into the proposal by “calling out Republicans in Congress who have refused to entertain the idea and conservative education policy experts who’ve opposed the plan.”

At AEI, DeVos and Conway said conservatives who worry about increasing federal involvement in education are off-base, because states would have the freedom to use the federal money to design their own programs or simply supplement existing programs.

State “tax credit scholarship” programs are basically a way for legislators to divert tax dollars to private and religious schools without using vouchers, which have been consistently unpopular with voters. The Trump-DeVos proposal would allow for up to $5 billion every year in federal tax credits for businesses and individuals who donate to state-based “scholarship granting organizations.”

In response to a questioner who said he was from the Alliance Defending Freedom, DeVos said the administration’s proposal included language that would require participating states not to prevent religious schools or nonprofits from accessing the tax dollars. DeVos has previously slammed state restrictions on public funding for religious schools.

DeVos and Conway had a lot of praise for Florida, one of the states that has most aggressively pushed “school choice” proposals. RWW’s Adele Stan reported last year that DeVos and her family had pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into a political action committee promoting voucher proponent Ron DeSantis, who narrowly defeated Andrew Gillum in last year’s governor’s race.

Following DeVos’ and Conway’s appearance was a panel conversation featuring officials from Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee touting their own schoolchoice programs and backing the administration’s proposal.

When Trump announced DeVos’s nomination, People For the American Way called it “a high-water mark in the right wing’s long war on public education.” When DeVos was confirmed, the secretive right-wing Council for National Policy had its own ambitious policy agenda for her: “a gradual, voluntary return at all levels to free-market private schools, church schools and home schools as the normative American practice.”