The tense exchange led the Trump Cabinet official to concede that perhaps she should actually visit the struggling schools that school choice programs divert funds away from in favor of giving some students access to private education.
A longtime proponent of choice, DeVos stumbled through her answer when asked how such efforts had worked to improve the public schools in her home state of Michigan. “Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?” journalist Lesley Stahl asked.
“I don’t know. Overall, I — I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better,” DeVos responded.
Stahl pointed out that programs that diverted funds away from struggling public schools to private ones did not, as DeVos and other advocates have argued. Stahl said: “No, but your argument that if you take funds away that the schools will get better is not working in Michigan, where you had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here.”
Initially, DeVos said she was “hesitant” to discuss schools generally because “schools are made up of individual students attending them,” to which Stahl responded that schools across the state are performing poorly.
An assessment of student performance on a national test showed that Michigan students have made little improvement since 2003, according to the Detroit News. In 2016, the president of the Michigan state board of education, John Austin, told Politico that the expansion of school choice was “destroying learning outcomes … and the DeVoses were a principal agent of that.”
Toward the end of the exchange Stahl, who also discussed school safety, sexual assault on campus, and #MeToo with DeVos, suggested that the Secretary of Education should actually pay of visit to underperforming schools after she revealed that she had not done so.
“I have not, I have not, I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming,” DeVos said.”
“Maybe you should,” said Stahl.
“Maybe I should. Yes.”