Veteran journalist Andrea Gabor explains that Betsy DeVos got the Trump administration to commit fully behind her voucher obsession, rolling some 29 or 30 programs into a block grant, including the toxic federal Charter Schools Program. In exchange, the Trump administration is seeking $5 billion for national voucher program. It is certain not to be approved by Congress, but meanwhile the Supreme Court is considering a case (Espinoza v. Montana) that could eliminate all state bans on public spending for religious schools. This would have a devastating fiscal impact on public schools.

But, she warns, the voucher idea is an expensive failure and politically toxic. Based on recent electoral results, she predicts that it could blow up in the faces of Republican candidates. The overwhelming majority of American children attend public schools, including the overwhelming majority of children of Republican voters.

Despite DeVos’s enthusiastic support for vouchers, it may turn out to be a losing issue:

K-12 schooling remains a hot issue especially in local elections; thus, the combination of block grants and vouchers create a political minefield for Republican state legislators this election year. During the 2018 midterms, teachers in Kentucky helped a Democrat, Andy Beshear, defeat Republican incumbent Matt Bevin in the race for governor in a state Donald Trump had carried by 30 points.

In Wisconsin, where another pro-public education Democrat, Tony Evers, defeated Republican incumbent Governor Scott Walker, voters set recordspassing ballot measures increasing property taxes and allowing districts to exceed state-imposed revenue caps. These measures brought in an estimated $1.37 billion in additional public-school revenue. 

Meanwhile, in Arizona, groups critical of public education, including ones backed by DeVos and the Koch family, chose not to campaign for a 2018 ballot measure that would have expanded the state’s voucher law when they saw it would be a losing battle. The expansion measure was resoundingly defeated following a vigorous anti-voucher campaign. And just last month, Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, unveiled a budget with close to $300 million in extra funding for Arizona public schools.