DeVos, Trump pick to oversee public education, has deep ties to privatization movement

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by Félix Pérez

Betsy DeVos’ involvement with and funding of efforts to privatize public schools stretches back decades in her home state of Michigan and other states. The multi-billionaire lobbyist and political donor will appear this afternoon (5 pm ET) before the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee in a much anticipated hearing.

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DeVos, who has no experience or training in public education, has been an outspoken leader on behalf of “school choice,” code words for private school vouchers, unaccountable charter schools, education savings accounts and tax credits, dating to the early 1990s. DeVos and her husband, Mike, have spent upward of $10 million in lobbying for voucher programs across the country. According to her website, Betsy DeVos serves as chairman of the American Federation for Children, the largest organization in the United States promoting vouchers, corporate tax credits and other school choice programs.

As early as 1993, DeVos and her husband were involved in the passage of Michigan’s first charter school bill. They are widely credited with a law passed in 2011 that lifted the cap on the number of Michigan charter schools. Currently, 80 percent of the state’s charter schools are run by private for-profit companies, a percentage higher than any other state.

But Michigan’s hands-off approach to charter school accountability has resulted in lower academic performance than traditional public schools “and, in some cases, terrible schools in the state’s poorest communities as part of a system dominated by for-profit operators,” reported the newspaper Politico. In fact, Michigan, in the first-ever analysis of state charter school policies by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, was found to have one of the lowest state ratings for holding charter school authorizers accountable for their schools’ academic performance. The state received only three out of a possible 27 points when measured against the organization’s own best practices.

Former Lansing, MI, community school coordinator and Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook took to the Detroit News to lay the blame for the state’s woeful charter school performance squarely at the feet of DeVos.

Betsy DeVos has brought a single-minded ideological fervor to Michigan’s charter school movement — especially in Detroit. With the weight of her family’s millions in campaign donations to Michigan legislators, she has lobbied to create the most wide open charter school law in the country.

The result: a charter school industry in Michigan unlike anywhere in the nation, “boasting” more for-profit charters than any other state.

Last year, DeVos praised Donald Trump’s plan to use $20 billion in existing federal education funding to give to states for private school vouchers and charter schools. At risk under such a proposal are services for millions of students served by Title I, Pell Grants and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Following are key points on the DeVos school privatization timeline:

  • 1993: Betsy and Dick DeVos were involved in passing Michigan’s first charter school bill.
  • 1998 to 2008: The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation spends more than $7 million to expand school choice.
  • 2000: Betsy and Dick DeVos spend $5 million to change the Michigan Constitution to allow tax-credit scholarships or vouchers.” Sixty-eight percent of Michigan voters rejected the voucher scheme.
  • 2001: DeVos cites Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, enacted and launched in 2001, as one of her biggest successes. “The program functions similar to a traditional private school voucher, but it is less vulnerable to legal challenges because its funding comes from money that is redirected from corporate taxes.”
  • 2002: DeVos advocates for Michigan to get rid of its constitutional ban on school vouchers after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutional for publicly funded vouchers to pay for religious schools.
  • 2011: The DeVoses and the Great Lakes Education Project, which the couple founded, lobbies successfully to lift a cap on the number of charter schools in Detroit, defeating a provision that would have kept failing schools from expanding. Betsy DeVos was “one of the architects of Detroit’s charter school system,” which is “what even charter advocates acknowledge is the biggest school reform disaster in the country.”
  • 2014: DeVos cites as one of her biggest successes legislation to create an education tax credit program in Florida, which can be used to pay for private school tuition.
  • 2016: DeVos and her Great Lakes Education Project succeed in getting the Michigan Legislature to abandon a plan to create a citywide commission in Detroit to regulate the opening and closure of charter schools. The bill included a “provision to stop failing charter operators from creating new schools.”

Reader Comments

  1. Devos has no business being in charge of public education. Not when she favors school vouchers and charter schools. Plus has she no experience in the field of educating our children and cannot seem to give a direct answer to questions when interviewed.

  2. The name calling and cyber bullying here is inappropriate, almost as much as Devos being in charge of our education funding. I really don’t see how the questions that were asked of her were mean or misguided. They are the questions that I as a public school teacher want my leadership to understand as well if not better than I do. MarineBob, you denigrate our elected officials for being “harsh” to someone we all agree is unqualified. She would never win an election to the position the way our senators have, they have earned the right to be demanding of anyone asking to take on such an important and influential position.

    1. Please explain how lunatic Warren (she obviously has some significant anger management issues) asking if this woman was ever a manager of a trillion dollar loan bank has any bearing on anything other than creating a distraction? then following on with how about a billion dollar loan business. Warren (should have) knew/known the answer so she was asking questions to which she knew the answer. If she wanted to make that irrelevant point she could have made a statement. And, why are these ‘wonderful’ senators (most of whom have served way too many terms) being told by NEA members, at the request of mailings, to simply vote NO. First ask some hard questions (I wonder what ‘hard’ questions are? ) And if the mandate from the NEA is for the senators to vote no anyway, why waste everyone’s time asking questions? Seems like the NEA leadership had decided for its members what is best for the country. Are the members not smart enough to decide for themselves and you need some bureaucrat to tell you what to do?

      How is it that you say we all agree? What is this ‘we all’ nonsense? Obviously not every thinks she is unqualified. So it is somewhat presumptuous to say all. Don’t you think? But then again if the NEA leadership says so, it must be good.

  3. The reason Warren asked the budget question is because the main job of all of President Trump’s Cabinet members is to dole out the money that the Federal Government gives to these areas. She will need to know how to budget for all areas of education. That is the scary part, the schools already have to beg for money especially when Governors cut public school monies too.

    1. She also asked DeVos if she had ever been a manager of a trillion dollar loan business. Warren knew the answer. About the only thing missing was Warren making chicken noises like she did during the campaign supporting loser Hillary. (Yes, 2nd place is first loser)

  4. I watched the interview with Ms. DeVos. She did not know the answer to most of the important educational questions asked of her. When asked whether guns should be allowed in schools she spoke of grizzly bears! She was completely unaware of how student progress in public schools is measured. She is in favor of diverting public funds to private schools. Not only does that undermine public school funding, it is unconstitutional to use public funds to support private enterprise. She has absolutely no interest in supporting public schools.

    1. I am sure Mrs. DeVos is passionate about charter schools, but she has no knowledge of the public schools which she condemns. She and her children have never attended public schools, which make her more likely to believe false reports of their inadequacy. She is totally lacking in qualifications for this position. In addition, I agree that using public funds to pay for private schools may be deemed unconstitutional, should the issue ever reach the Supreme Court.

    2. With regards to the bears, did you listen? The senator from ? where ? Wyoming? stated some of their schools had ‘keep out the bear’ fences. DeVos’ response was with reference to that. She should have more emphatically stated that having (or not) guns in schools needs to be left up to local school districts, not by federal mandate. I suspect the senators pursuing that line of questioning was to get her to say everyone ought to have guns while they believe no one in this country, in contradiction to the 2nd amendment, would not allow for anyone to own a personal firearm. As I have stated, I am not sure if she is or is not qualified, but her qualification ought not be judged by her support or lack of support for charters but her overall qualifications for the job. The Conn senator was really snotty to her with regards to firearms. One has to wonder if there were armed people in the school (Sandy Hook??) where the mess occurred a couple of years ago, if it would have been as bad. We’ll never know

      It would seem the 10 or 12 senators on the committee interrogating her each have a separate agenda for their own little slice of that they think the job entails. There ought to be a job description and her qualifications measured against that list. Not based on what a bunch of either pissed- off- they -lost, or Republican biased senators pushing their agenda. Each presented what I suspect is a prepared muopic line of questioning, but only after a couple of minutes of self agrandization.

  5. Gravely concerned about the direction this new administration seems to be heading with educating our youth. Is anyone really thinking about the poor, underserved children of all colors? This may be something not to lose sight of since this group seems to get larger every year. Perhaps we should take a closer look at what has already happened in Michigan before we completely get on board with this. While l don’t agree with rude behavior, a lot is at stake here, l am sure she knew going in that they would grill her in an effort to reveal her lack of experience. Let’s just hope she is really thinking about what is best for ALL children and not just a select few.

  6. Can we keep the topic about education and what attitudes, programs, and knowledge about affect K – 12 education? Department attempts to improve education have wreaked carnage on learning preparation and have bombed in regard to equal education for all. Someone needs to head the education department but not someone whose experience is outside of actual schools or education. To make the Department of Education work well, someone has had to experience the school related process of learning, has to have a feel as to what’s been not working in the schools, not just “with education” itself. Just as someone might be chosen to improve a prison without any experience in the area, so, too, will an “out of network” person, despite personal money, miss what goes on in individual schools, and why learning is so hampered on the school level.

      1. MarineBob – she’s not just an outsider, she’s the antithesis Bob. She’s like what anti-matter is to matter. She’s been a dedicated force for undermining public education all her life. For people like me, DeVo’s as Secretary of Education is like Osama Bin Laden as Director of Homeland Security. Why you think you’ll find comfort in this forum which is devoted to supporting public education baffles me.

        1. Hans you just hit the nail on the head. I suspect you and many others who drink much of the NEA propaganda-kool aid are looking for comfort. Comfort is not going to fix problems. Controversy, upsetting, barf inducing change and tree shaking is what is needed to get things fixed. Public education in this nation, as evidenced by comparison to worldwide statistics shows we lag behind many other nations with whom we need to compete. Education associations want to pretty much keep the status quo, no radical changes, no tree shaking, business as usual. That approach will produce business as usual results. As I noted, I don’t really know much about this Devos woman and I am not sure if she is or is not the right person for the job. I am however disgusted with the senate hearings: they are a joke with essentially no meaning other than political posturing on both sides. I am confident that a business as usual appointee will not change anything to the benefit of public education in this country. That’s how we got to where we are now.

          1. MarineBob – You speak of change but your posts only advocate a position that subverts public education and any federal government involvement attached to it. As far as this nominee, DeVo’s doesn’t seem to present a better vision for our core clientele of poorer and academically disadvantaged kids who from the evidence seem to be more hurt than helped by charter schools and vouchers. Raised in an environment of privilege and removed from the classroom, it’s hard to imagine DeVo’s herself can even empathize or understand the challenges we face as public educators and/or the plight of our kids. She’s an outsider for certain.

  7. I listened to most of DeVos’ hearing and was appalled by how little she knows about public education. Her answers were evasive and seldom actually answered the question. I am the product of public schools as are most of the population of the USA and I believe that our democracy depends on strong public education for all. DeVos wants to build Charter schools, draining money away from pubic schools, at the expense of most of our school population. She is qualified only for dismantling public education.

  8. You only want and expect your opinions reinforced. And “You “have no political agenda????! Your agenda is what has precipitated this crisis in education … a crisis that you so glibly blame on the incoming administration!!! I know that this is not what you want to hear!

    1. Crisis in Education? Where ? What about the public schools that are doing great? Or have you already had the cool aid that says all schools are bad???

      1. Some are great, some are terrible, I suspect most are OK and meet the needs of students. I believe the vigorous discussion is really in reference to the marginal performers and fear of change to make all better

    2. The “crisis” is a manufactured one. Professional educators resent being led around by the nose by amateurs like Mrs. DeVos. She was born to wealth, married up and believes public school teachers are overpaid. She has a myopic perspective on the public system as evidenced by her failures in her home state of Michigan. She took a bad situation and made it worse in Detroit. Her proclivities for funding private schools and for-profit charters with taxpayer money would also cripple rural school districts around this country.

      1. How about those who are lead around by their noses by teachers unions and associations? Paying dues month after month to what end that benefits teachers? Union (type) organizations need to rethink their purpose and one action needs to be to stop support for political causes which appear to speak for all members when in fact that is not the case

    3. Check the facts. Public education in America is not in crisis. The graduation rate is the highest in history. While debate continues regarding over/under testing and the merits of measuring proficiency versus growth (which Mrs. DeVos does not understand), no one who actually reads education data can argue that the public schools–and their students–are succeeding overall. Data on charter schools shows they do not.

      1. If the current state of education is so excellent., why do 20-30% of entering college freshmen need remediation in math and reading? A number of schools seem now to sidestep half the problem by eliminating math requirements.

  9. A comment to think about
    Sitting in a local cafe, I heard a group of elderly people make the following comment, ” I think any teacher who is pregnant should be taken out of the presence of young students”
    They are all Trump supporters.

    1. Brilliant observation. I am sure that is 100% of elderly opinions. Jus tcurious, how do you know for whom they voted? did you spy over their shoulders in the voting booth?

    2. Until 1973, it was common practice for pregnant teachers to be forced out of their classroom once they began “showing”, even married teachers.

  10. Unfortunately, the Democrats don’t have enough Senate seats anymore so unless they get some Republican help in blocking this appointment, her confirmation as Secretary of Education is secure.

  11. Let’s not forget that she’s part of the fundamentalist Christian movement, which has long stated as its goal the destruction of public education or at least Chritianzing public education, forgetting that we have separation of church and state. Google “Devos & fundamentalism” and you will be “sore afraid,” as I am as a mainstream Christian.

  12. And to think that Mitt Romney publically praised her efforts in an article that was nation-wide! (If I remember correctly, it was the WP.) He claimed that her qualifications were basically that she loves kids. Holy vouchers, Batman!

    I watched parts of her hearing and almost every answer she gave, started with “Thank you Senator for asking that question.” None of her answers were actual answers to the questions! So yes, thank you Senator for asking those questions and putting her on the spot! She answers questions like Trump does. Everything was about how she was looking forward to working with you on that, or, I will have to review that, I have no banking experience or student loan experience. Senators would stop her mid sentence because she wasn’t answering them, and with only a short amount of time, they were grilling her rather fast! She couldn’t handle it! How is she going to survive when she is up to her neck with issues she doesn’t understand? She was a deer in headlights! I see her folding under the pressure. She was too nice and that ain’t going to cut it for public education. Her mask of deception was left at home that day.

    1. I suppose people like lunatic Warren asked relevant questions? Like, have you ever worked as a bank manager responsible for a trillion dollars of debt? How about a billion dollars? Warren and the other dems were rude to this woman. Whether she is, or is not the right person for the job, people like Warren( who can not tell truth from fiction) and Sanders (who thinks everything in life ought to be free, just don’t make him pay for other people’s ‘free’ stuff) ought to be put out to pasture. Every stinking question and every questioner in these hearings was a joke, both sides. Essentially every questioner started out his/her diatribe as just that, with a look how wonderful I am ramble on about nothing. Then Hassan had to bring up her disabled son, and Murray, well, she is just out of touch with reality. They all wasted everyone’s time. They know they will not vote to approve DeVos so why didn’t they have the political courage to simply say: Mr. Chairman , thank you for calling on me but the teacher organizations, having pleaded with their members to contact me, have told me to ask hard questions and vote NO on DeVos. I really don’t want to ask any questions because my vote is decided. But I do want to try to make myself and the nominee look stupid. And how can I go against the teachers groups, they support my campaign with lots of their union dues dollars. So I guess I will waste a bunch of everyone’s time acting like an idiot.

    2. Anybody notice this: When Marine Generals were being questioned, no one gave them too much crap, however, when a somewhat more mild mannered woman sat in the hot seat, it was a field day for the hyenas. They are hypocrites (sp??) of the highest order. They were rude, irrelevant and just down right bullied this woman. And these are the same people who scream Trump is mean spirited. She may or may not have adequate qualifications but she took a beating at the hands of a bunch of lunnies.

      1. MarineBob – DeVos didn’t have a meaningful answer to most ANY question asked of her. Her usual response was ” I look forward to working with you or understanding this better.” For a guy like you who’s all about personal responsibility, you’re sure quick to paint her as a victim. If she’s qualified, she should’ve been better prepared.

        1. Prepared for what? Loonie toons like Murray, Sanders and Warren? One would need to call the Ghost busters to be ready for their illogical, immature questions. It does not much matter is she is or is not qualified with that bunch. Time for term limits, anger counseling for Warren, how to act like a human for Murray, how American is not really a socialist state for Sanders.

        2. Okay so I’m reading these comments and I am sitting here wondering if your taught a program called Basics Plus for 8th graders who were academically advanced at George v Kirk Middle School in Newark, DE?

        3. @ Hans Kosenkranius.. I am sitting here reading the comments and some of which are just unbelievable. But your effective communication and obvious stand make me wonder if I know you. So I am wondering if you are Mr.K who taught a program called Basics Plus at George V Kirk middle school located in Newark, Delaware?

          1. @Hans Kosenkranius or was it Senior Human Behavior at Christiana High School? I had two teachers who went by Mr. K one gave me a love for science and chemistry the other a career path!

  13. Devos seems to have no clue what good public education is all about. She needs to step into the classroom. I’m a bit scared for our future!

      1. How can a question get a thumbs down? Someone please tell me how the legitimate vote of the country ought to be ‘taken down’? You might not like it, you might not agree, but it is done. Try again in 4 years. maybe Hillary will still be available.

    1. Still waiting, how should she be ‘taken down?’ Madonna apparently is dreaming about blowing up the White House. That kind of ‘take down?”

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