Pence, DeVos, And More Private School Choice Baloney

Pence, DeVos, And More Private School Choice Baloney

My thanks to Bill Ferriter, who raised some of this on Twitter, thereby allowing me to boost my blood pressure before I even got all the way home from vacation.

Mike Pence, Betsy DeVos and a few other notables took a trip yesterday to North Carolina, to plug an assortment of their favorites issues while visiting a private school that, unsurprisingly, underlined everything wrong with their favorite issues.

The school was Thales Academy; Pence visited with faculty and with a Fourth Grade class (where he and the teacher wore masks, DeVos did not, and Pence took his off to do his talky talky). He tweeted that "To Open Up America Again is to open up schools again."

Thales of Miletus. Nobody asked him if he wanted
a school chain named after him.
Thales is one of many schools founded by Robert L. Luddy, who made his bundle turning a sheet metal shop into a manufacturer of kitchen ventilation systems. He launched his first charter school in 1998, followed by a private Catholic Prep school, and the Thales chain. You may remember one of his schools being in the news for its policy forbidding the mention of anything related to LGBTQ--well, anything. His libertarian-ish bona fides are many, and he was not initially in the Trump camp in 2016, bnt he's since joined the team. And when it comes to pandemic response, Luddy is right there in Trumplandia; take this March 2020 piece he write entitled "Back To Work: America Has No Choice If It Is To Avoid Total Disaster."

That's a big part of what brought Pence and DeVos to Thales. As Pence noted in his remarks:

We were — we had a great discussion, and I could sense the spirit in the room — the enthusiasm the children feel for being back in school, which is where we want all of America’s children to be. We think we can safely reopen our schools. And I’m here to listen and learn from your experience here at the forefront of reopening a school here in America to understand how Thales Academy is doing it and how North Carolina is making it happen.

DeVos took the opportunity to restate some of her current policy positions:

“There’s not a national superintendent, nor should there be, therefore there’s not a national plan for reopening,” DeVos said.

Too many schools in North Carolina are giving families “no choice but to fall back on virtual learning,” she said. DeVos advocated for school choice, including private school vouchers.

North Carolina has a school voucher program that DeVos's American  Federation for Children ranks as 5th in the country, and both that and the 100% tax-deductible Luddy Schools Scholarship Fund offer financial support to Thales students. Nevertheless, Thales is an example of how choice ends up not being choice at all.

Thales is a uniform school, and families are responsible for buying the correct clothes, including phys ed uniforms.

Thales also won't be providing transportation; "parents are responsible for transportation to and from the school each day." Thales schools run a fairly typical school day, so that parents not only need to do their own transport, but need to be able to get students to school before 8 and around 3:00. After school care is offered, for an additional price.

Thales won't be providing lunch, either. Parents can order through My Hot Lunchbox, a business that is free to the school (and actually provides a little kickback fund raising to the school, though the school expressly eschews fundraising, because Self Sufficient)--just charge the extra costs to your Visa, MasterCard, or Discover card.

Thales also won't be providing IEP or 504 plan supports. You just let the school know what your child's plan calls for, and they'll let you know whether or not they accept your child.

Thales focuses on a classical education, aka Ancient White Guy and Eurocentric Stuff, plus Traditional American Values (Thales of Miletus was one of the Seven Sages of Greece).. They like Direct Instruction for K-5, Latin logic and rhetoric, and will get that important character education focusing on "virtues such as self-discipline, perseverance, respect, responsibility, and humility."

So if Thales represents choices available to students, it's worth noting that the choice is not available to students who need transportation, or subsidized school lunch and breakfast, or who have special needs, or who don't think white Latin-ish culture is the only culture they need to be steeped in.

In her defense, DeVos would probably not argue the point, saying instead that a school like Thales exists just to serve the students for whom it is a good fit. You know--the right kind of students. Other students should find another school with a better fit for their station in life. A subtext of DeVos's approach to choice has always been that people would all be much happier if they just accepted their proper place and role in society. In the meantime, let's have the taxpayers foot the bill for private schools who serve the right sort of students, and do it by stripping resources from public schools which are for, you know, those Other People's children.
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