United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
July 8, 2019
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Minister Browne, Madame Executive Secretary, Distinguished Ministers of Education and Heads of Delegation, Ladies and Gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to join all of you today for the 10th Inter-American Education Ministerial meeting.
I very much appreciate the opportunity this forum provides to exchange perspectives and ideas regarding the education-related challenges we all face; the approaches each of our countries is taking to strengthen education; and ways we can best work together. I appreciated the opportunity to hear from distinguished ministers and their remarks, and it’s clear that we do have many issues in common.
I would like to take this opportunity to talk about key challenges we face in the United States and our government’s proposal to expand education freedom in the United States. We know our future generations are at risk because for too many their education does not prepare them for success.
On PISA, the United States ranks 24th in reading, 25th in science and 40th in math. And a recent study from Stanford and Harvard concluded that, despite spending over 1 trillion dollars in taxpayer spending at the federal level alone, since the formation of the U.S. Department of Education, it hasn’t worked to diminish the gap between those at the highest and lowest levels of socioeconomic status.
Students deserve something different; we need to do something different; students need freedom. Education freedom is the power to find the right fit: to learn in places and ways that work for each individual student. Education Freedom Scholarships is one mechanism to help empower students. When enacted, Education Freedom Scholarships will create the largest ever voluntary investment in school choice through scholarship organizations.
States would design and control scholarship programs for elementary and secondary students that meet their local needs, unique to their states and their communities. It’s not just for private schools. It could be used to expand public school options as well. And it doesn’t take a single dollar away from traditional public schools or public school students. It is a tax credit, a mechanism of creating incentives for donors to contribute voluntarily to scholarship programs. Responsibility for designing the scholarship programs – and for regulating private schools – falls to the states. Everything about the program is voluntary. No state, no donor, no school and no family would be compelled to participate.
Ultimately, our proposal requires only one thing: that students and parents must be empowered to make decisions and choices for their children and families. Families in the United States should decide how education dollars are spent for their own children. Education – and the freedom to pursue it – is for everyone, everywhere. It’s not just a U.S. desire; such freedom is a human longing.
Education is indeed the great equalizer. It is the engine of strong economies, and it is the key to free and secure societies. We are pleased to learn from each other about ways to better prepare our students, to collaborate on improved career and technical education and apprenticeships, and to expand education freedom.
Before I close, our delegation would like to express its appreciation to the Executive Secretariat and the OAS Department of Human Development, Education and Employment for the important work they oversee in helping to implement the education mandates that emanate from these Ministerial meetings. In particular, our delegation takes note of their role in coordinating the Inter-American Teacher Education Network, which has come to be an integral part of regional efforts to improve teaching.
I regret that I will not be able to participate in the rest of this important meeting, but I want to convey my best wishes for a very successful Ministerial. I look forward to learning about the results and outcomes of this meeting and to our continued engagement with other countries in the region and with the OAS as we work together to improve access to a quality education for all students.