Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has faced opposition from advocates of abortion rights, workers’ rights, and voter rights, all of whom have pointed out the disastrous effect he could have on crucial protections. But little has been said about Kavanaugh’s potential impact on public education and the irreparable damage he could do to students.
Since her confirmation, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has pushed for private school vouchers at every opportunity, dismantled civil rights protections, and defended for-profit colleges at the expense of students and taxpayers — and all evidence points to Kavanaugh sharing her agenda.
DeVos’ continued support for vouchers is particularly egregious, considering the overwhelming research that shows their harmful effect on student learning. In voucher programs, states or cities use taxpayer dollars to pay the tuition costs for students to attend private schools. As a result, vouchers funnel money away from the public schools that serve approximately 90 percent of students.
The impact of Washington, D.C.’s federally sponsored voucher program on student learning, for example, was equivalent to missing 68 days of school. Voucher programs in Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio fare similarly. What’s more, vouchers are meaningless for students in rural states like Alaska, Maine, and North Dakota, where there are few alternatives to local public schools — and any loss of students could end up decimating the public system.
Over the past couple of years, DeVos has largely been unable to enact her voucher agenda due to its unpopularity across the country and within Congress. But, if confirmed, Kavanaugh may be the solution to her problems.
Kavanaugh’s record on education speaks for itself. In Florida, as an attorney, Kavanaugh defended — for a reduced fee — then-Governor Jeb Bush’s private school voucher program, which the Florida Supreme Court later found to be unconstitutional. In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, he praised former Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist’s view that a wall of separation between church and state is “based on bad history.” In the same speech, he also lauded Rehnquist’s majority opinions upholding both private school vouchers in Ohio and tax deductions for private school tuition in Minnesota.
The risks of a Kavanaugh confirmation are real. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that Missouri could not deny funding to a church for fixing up its playground, despite the state’s prohibition on public funds going to religious institutions. While the ruling was narrowly focused on playgrounds, Betsy DeVos celebrated the decision.
At the same time, the Supreme Court declined to rule on a Colorado case in which the Colorado Supreme Court found a voucher program unconstitutional. This case could very well find its way back to the nation’s highest court, with a Justice Kavanaugh ready to strike down any prohibitions on funneling public money away from public schools and to private religious institutions.
Importantly, vouchers are not the only issue on which Kavanaugh and DeVos are fully aligned. While the Trump administration has been calling to arm teachers, the National Rifle Association is pushing for Kavanaugh’s confirmation with at least $1 million of ad buys.
DeVos is making it nearly impossible for students cheated by their colleges to get loan relief, and Kavanaugh has ruled that the very agency tasked with protecting student borrowers — the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — is unconstitutional. DeVos has delayed regulations meant to protect students with disabilities, and Kavanaugh has ruled against a student with a disability who sued the District of Columbia get the services he needed. What’s more, affirmative action — which DeVos is aiming to limit and of which Kavanaugh appears skeptical — is likely to come before the Supreme Court again.
If confirmed, Kavanaugh would replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the Court’s swing vote, and would join a reliably conservative bloc of justices ready to overturn established protections. It is not a stretch to imagine a series of 5-4 decisions that slowly decimate public education in favor of voucher schemes, and that trample on civil rights protections in the name of “small government.”
Scott Sargrad is the Managing Director for K-12 Education Policy at the Center for American Progress (CAP). ThinkProgress is editorially independent of CAP.