President-elect Donald J. Trump has selected Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, a rabid proponent of privatizing the nation’s primary and secondary schools, to be his Secretary of Education. DeVos is a truly terribly choice, but hey, maybe we dodged a bullet, since Trump’s first choice, evangelical preacher and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., turned the job down.
DeVos is pretty bad, though, so it’s more like dodging a bullet to the chest and taking one in the gut instead. DeVos did not support Trump during the campaign, but she is something of a Tea Party darling for her devotion to siphoning governmental funds from public education and giving them to private and charter schools. “School choice,” the wingnuts call it, but it’s just a choice for rich people who would rather send their kids to private school away from the brown-skinned folks and other undesirables, and best of all, to have tax dollars subsidize it.
DeVos has never worked in education. Never.
DeVos’s children have never set foot in a public school. They attend Christian private schools.
In 2000, DeVos spearheaded an effort to put a measure on the Michigan ballot to put a school voucher system in the state’s constitution (sound familiar, Alabamians?). When the measure failed to pass, DeVos and her rich husband, who owns a controlling interest in the scammy Amway company, formed a PAC to support legislators nationally who supported school vouchers. As of 2010, the group’s success record was 121 to 60.
One of the big issues with giving charter and private schools public tax dollars, whether directly or through a voucher or tax credit program, is the difficulty in maintaining academic standards that meet public standards. It is public tax dollars being spent, after all. DeVos is not a proponent of regulating private schools in any form or fashion:
DeVos and her husband played a role in getting Michigan’s charter school law passed in 1993, and ever since have worked to protect charters from additional regulation. When Michigan lawmakers this year were considering a measure that would have added oversight for charter schools in Detroit, members of the DeVos family poured $1.45 million into legislators’ campaign coffers — an average of $25,000 a day for seven weeks. Oversight was not included in the final legislation.
The DeVos influence is one reason that Michigan’s charter sector is among the least regulated in the country. Roughly 80 percent of charters in Michigan are run by private companies, far more than in any other state. And state authorities have done little up to now to ensure that charter schools are effectively serving students, eliciting concern from current federal authorities.
“There are a lot of schools that are doing poorly and charter authorizers do not seem to be taking the necessary actions to either improve performance or close those underperforming charters,” current U.S. Secretary of Education John King told Chalkbeat about Michigan last month.
So I guess we will now see federal education policy move away from its core mission of supporting and regulating public schools, and instead towards throwing federal tax dollars at private schools, mostly sponsored by churches, without ensuring that these schools are not churning out students who believe humans rode dinosaurs like horses when the world was formed 6,000 years ago.
And as if all that was not depressing enough, DeVos and her family have spent millions in their home state of Michigan to support a proposed ban on same-sex marriage. So now we’ll have an education secretary who will undoubtedly want to keep transgender students from peeing or pooping in the restroom that matches their gender identity.
Donald Trump’s apparent strategy, to the extent he ever has a strategy, is to keep writing outrageous factless tweets that deflect the press’s coverage away from his terrible cabinet picks. After all, a story about Trump’s trolling CNN reporters gets more clicks than a boring story like this one reciting the facts about an education secretary who has never been a teacher, who has never worked in education, whose kids are privately-schooled, who has spent millions of her husband’s Amway money to support school vouchers, who supports unregulated charter schools, and who is opposed to LGBTQ rights.
The media, including this website, needs to treat Trump’s near-daily Twitterstorms briefly and contemptuously, and focus our attention on what the asshole is actually doing as president-elect, and starting on January 20, as president.