There is a movement to privatize public education in America. Here’s how far it has gotten.


June 23, 2018


Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says her mission is to expand alternatives to traditional public schools — and a new report assesses how far she and her allies across the country have succeeded in the movement to privatize public education.

The report — issued by the Schott Foundation for Public Education and the Network for Public Education, two nonprofits that advocate for public schools — gives five states an “A+” or “A” in regard to their commitment to supporting public schools. They are Nebraska, North Dakota, West Virginia, Kentucky and South Dakota. The states with the lowest overall grades are Arizona, Florida and Georgia.

All 50 states and Washington, D.C., were evaluated on five factors:

  • Types and extent of school privatization
  • Civil rights protections for students in voucher and charter programs
  • Accountability, regulations and oversight
  • Transparency of voucher and charter programs
  • Other factors related to charter school accountability

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately operated, many by for-profit companies. Voucher and similar programs use public money to pay for private and religious school tuition or provide tax credits to people who contributed money for that purpose. School choice is seen by critics as the centerpiece of the movement to privatize America’s public education system, arguably the country’s most important civic institution.

Below, you can see a map with grades for all states and the District and read the report, “Grading the States: A Report Card on the Nation’s Commitment to Public Education.” (No doubt a report by pro-privatization outfits would have the grades reversed.)

President Trump and DeVos have put the privatization movement at the center of the national school debate, with both making clear their top priority in education policy is expanding “school choice.” DeVos has said that traditional public schools are “a dead end,” and Trump, in his inaugural address, called them part of “American carnage.”

They and like-minded allies say choice gives families options on where and how they want their children to be educated. Critics say using public money to support charter and private schools undermine the traditional public system, which educates the majority of America’s school-age children. And they say that most charter and private schools are not accountable to the public the same way traditional public schools are.

Here’s what the report found:

  • Twenty-eight states and the District have some form of voucher program — traditional, education savings accounts or tax-credit scholarships. The vast majority have multiple programs — Wisconsin, Ohio and Arizona each have five programs.
  • All but three states have a voucher program, charter program or both.
  • Thirty-three states and the District allow for-profit companies to manage their charter schools, and four states also allow for-profit charter schools.
  • Nineteen states fail to include additional state and local civil rights protections for voucher students beyond race, ethnicity and national origin. Only one state — Maryland — protects LGBTQ students in private schools that receive vouchers.
  • Among the states with voucher programs, only one mandates providing services for English-language-learning students, and 18 states do not mandate services for students with disabilities in the program.
  • Twenty-three states and the District fail to protect students in voucher programs from religious discrimination.
  • Fifteen states with voucher programs fail to require background checks for teachers and employees in schools receiving vouchers.
  • Eighteen states with voucher programs have no mandate for transparency in student performance in one or more of their programs, and the majority do not require students to take state tests.
  • Nine states have at least one program that does not require private schools receiving vouchers to be accredited or even registered.
  • Of the 44 states with charter laws, 28 of them and the District fail to require the same teacher certification as schools in the public school district.
  • Thirty states and the District give children of board members, employees and other groups an advantage when it comes to enrollment.
  • Thirteen states have no conflict-of-interest requirements between charter board members and service providers.
  • Charter school students with disabilities are at a disadvantage in 39 states and the District because they do not clearly establish how services should be provided to those students.


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