By Miriam Raftery
January 26, 2017 (Washington D.C.) – One of President Trump’s most controversial nominees is Betsy DeVos, proposed to head up the Department of Education. The billionaire GOP donor has led a “school choice” PAC and led efforts to divert public funds to charter schools and vouchers in Detroit with largely failed results, where critics say more segregation and generally poor test scores resulted. If confirmed, she would be an Education Secretary largely committed to dismantling public education despite no track record of success in helping students, particularly students of color.
In her confirmation hearing, DeVos voiced opposition for enforcement of federal laws protecting disabled and minority students. “I think that’s a matter best left to the states,” she testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. She continued to insist on this stance, even after evidence was presented that some states have had dismal results, particularly in states with a history of racial discrimination.
She also raised eyebrows by defending allowing guns in school, mentioning “grizzly bears” as a reason—an unlikely threat in schools anywhere outside of Alaska and Wyoming.
Questioning also revealed she would refuse to enforce federal laws to protect college students from sexual assault, and other important federal protections, leaving their fate up to the whims of state decision makers.
Teachers’ organizations have urged opposition to DeVos – and voters are responding. Many Senators’ offices report more calls in opposition to DeVos than any other cabinet nominee with the possible exception of Jeff Sessions, the proposed Attorney General with a history of opposing civil and voting rights, Politico reports.
Her vouchers program allows parents to take federal funds and send their kids to charter schools, including religious institutions.
How bad are the schools in Detroit, which DeVos holds up as an example of her charter schools and vouchers program?
The lowlights are described in detail in “A sobering look at what Betsy DeVos did to education in Michigan—and what she might do as secretary of education” reprinted in the Washington Post and originally authored by Detroit Free Press editor Stephen Henderson.
Henderson describes communities left with just one charter school at or near the bottom of the state academically in test scores, no better than public schools but sucking money out of the system that could have been used to improve public schools. The better performing charters tend to be far away from students in greatest need; lack of transportation and low income prevents many children from escaping poorly performing schools and has led to de facto segregation, Henderson reports.
“We’re a laughingstock in national education circles and a pariah among reputable charter school operators, “ he writes.
DeVos also lacks any objective qualifications to head up the nation’s schools. She is not a teacher or educator. Her children attended private schools. She has no education credentials.
Heiress to the Amway fortune and brother of Eric Prince, founder of Blackwater, DeVos has however donated massive sums to the Republican Party – perhaps as much as $200 million, she conceded under questioning by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. She has also active on behalf of Evangelical Christian causes, the Washington Post has reported.
Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, has brushed off concerns over her lack of education qualifications. “It’s not like you’re at the PTA,” Hoogstra said. “I think that Betsy DeVos will bring her best intelligence and judgment and she will speak truth to power.”
For more information on DeVos and her track record in Detroit, see the numerous stories