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How DeVos’s School-Choice Plan Could Work in Rural Areas

Education Secretary-nominee Betsy DeVos offered little clarification of her policy goals at Tuesday’s Senate confirmation hearing, but one thing is certain: The Michigan billionaire is in favor of school choice. She has backed charter schools and voucher programs in the past, though she is adamant that this position does not equate to being anti-public school. At the hearing, both Republican Senator Mike Enzi, who represents Wyoming, and Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, brought up the unique challenges rural states face in education structure and financing. Both spoke of the distance issues students in frontier areas combat to physically get to non-public schools, and Murkowski referenced her constituents who are concerned about what happens when “there is no way to get to an alternative option for your child.” This structural problem—further entrenched by the reality that there are simply fewer students to populate new schools that might open—presents a tangled web of unequal supply and demand for charter schools. The “choice” aspect of school choice is not always realistic.

I spoke to Karen Eppley, an associate professor in the Pennsylvania State University College of Education and the editor of the Journal in Rural Research and Education, about what DeVos’s goals for education mean for sparsely populated states.