Betsy DeVos and her No Good, Very Bad Record on Public Education
As President Donald Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos has worked to subvert public education. She has promoted the privatization of public schools through vouchers, called for deep cuts to federal funding, rolled back protections for vulnerable children, and shilled for the for-profit college industry that has defrauded countless students.
Scroll down through this timeline to see what Betsy DeVos has done as education secretary. Each moment shows how she’s been a disastrous choice, just as public school supporters knew she would be.
Betsy DeVos and her family spend millions promoting education privatization schemes. Long before she is Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos uses her family’s wealth to privatize public schools. She funds politicians who support voucher schemes. She chairs the pro-voucher American Federation for Children. In her home state of Michigan, DeVos is “one of the architects of Detroit’s charter school system,” one that downplays regulation and accountability while draining resources from public schools. Even some privatization advocates have described it as “one of the biggest school reform disasters in the country.”
Educators denounce Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos. Elementary teacher and NEA president Lily Eskelsen García says DeVos will be “the first secretary of education with zero experience with public schools. She has never worked in a public school. She has never been a teacher, a school administrator, nor served on any public board of education. She didn’t even attend public schools or send her children to public schools. She is out of her league when it comes to knowing and doing what works for public school students.”
DeVos’ confirmation hearing raises further concern about her qualifications. She cannot address fundamental questions about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, including whether states and localities have to comply. She was unfamiliar with the difference between proficiency and growth. She won’t say whether she believes guns belong in schools, and whether for-profit charters that receive public funding should be held to the same standards as public schools. Her most cringe-worthy answers—like the one about a school in Montana that might need guns to protect against a “potential grizzly” —go viral.
DeVos barely wins confirmation. Despite 1.1 million letters and 80,000 phone calls from NEA supporters urging senators to vote no, the U.S. Senate confirms DeVos. Vice President Mike Pence casts the deciding vote, the first time in the nation’s history a vice president’s vote was necessary to approve a cabinet nominee.
DeVos supports rollback of protections for trans students. As one of her first acts as education secretary, DeVos encourages President Trump to retract protections that allow transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
DeVos supports Trump budget proposal to slash funding for Department of Education by 13.5%. This proposal asks for a collective $9 billion in cuts to education, including after-school programs, career and technical education, and programs to hire and train teachers. The budget bolsters the Trump-DeVos privatization agenda with $250 million for vouchers, while rolling back education spending to pre-2002 levels (by today’s dollars). The Republican-controlled Congress rejects her entire request.
Thousands protest DeVos’ commencement address at a historically black university. A Florida educator gathered more than 10,000 signatures asking Bethune-Cookman University leaders to reconsider their invitation to DeVos. She had just supported a budget that hurts Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and makes a $3.9 billion reduction to Pell Grants, which a majority of HBCU students rely on. She also referred to HBCUs as “pioneers of choice,” a complete misrepresentation of their history. DeVos was booed throughout her speech.
DeVos is sued for repealing federal protections that hold predatory for-profit colleges accountable. DeVos violated federal law by revoking the Borrower Defense Rule, meant to make schools financially responsible for fraud, and forbid them from forcing students to resolve complaints outside court.
DeVos rescinds sexual assault guidelines. She weakens protections against sexual harassment and assault afforded by Title IX. DeVos attempts to explain, saying “Any perceived offense can become a full-blown Title IX investigation. But if everything is harassment, then nothing is.” The National Women’s Law Center says DeVos’ approach “signals a green light to sweep sexual assault further under the rug.”
The DeVos-led Education Department attempts to strip its employees of collective bargaining rights. Department officials unilaterally impose a “collective bargaining agreement” on 3,900 union staffers represented by American Federation of Government Employees Council 252, and say they will no longer bargain with them.
Betsy DeVos’s interview on 60 Minutes interview is a must-watch.
Betsy DeVos endorses plan to place guns in schools. She proposes using federal grant money intended for academics and student enrichment to purchase firearms for teachers to keep in their classrooms. After educators and parents express outrage, citing the potential danger to students and teachers alike, DeVos backs away from this plan.
Betsy DeVos imperils a program to help educators and other public employees handle college loan debt. The Trump administration threatens to abolish the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which allows public workers to apply for forgiveness of their student loans after 10 years of service and on-time loan payments. As of September 30, 2018, only 0.5% of public service workers who applied to the program received forgiveness.
DeVos introduces regulations requiring cross-examination of victims of campus sexual assault. Experts, educators, and parents agree that the proposal will effectively deter survivors from coming forward to report assault. Universities would be held less responsible. Managing attorney of the Women’s Law Project Terry Fromson says these policies would allow schools to “ignore much of the sexual harassment that occurs in schools.”
Trump’s school safety commission, chaired by Betsy DeVos, releases its report with recommendations that would do little to protect students. The Commission was formed after the largest mass shooting at a high school, in Parkland, Fla. Instead of addressing gun laws, the commission instead dismantles students’ civil rights protections by rescinding an Obama-era policy directing schools not to punish minority students at higher rates than white students.
DeVos stalls an effort to decrease inequity in special education. A federal judge rules against the education secretary’s proposal to delay an Obama-era rule that protects minority students in special education. The judge refers to DeVos’ attempted delay as “arbitrary and capricious.”
One of the first decisions the next president will make is the selection of a new education secretary.With presidential candidates forming their platforms, we are asking them the tough questions – and we want to make sure your questions are answered.
DeVos pushes to expand federal vouchers and cut education spending. Her voucher bill is a brazen scheme that would invest $50 billion in private school vouchers over 10 years. Meanwhile, DeVos backs Trump’s proposal to cut education spending by $8.5 billion in 2020, eliminating more than two dozen programs that help public schools, including teacher development, academic support and enrichment, and after-school activities.
DeVos opens the door for private schools and religious organizations to receive a windfall of taxpayer funding. DeVos says the U.S. Department of Education will no longer enforce provisions that require federally funded services be provided only by public employees or contractors independent of private schools and religious organizations. It is an unprecedented move for a federal agency to indicate its intent not to enforce the law as written.
DeVos Testifies. In testimony before a House subcommittee, DeVos struggles to defend her proposal to cut $7 billion from education programs, including eliminating all $18 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics. She fails to justify her claim that “students may be better served by being in larger classes.” (Her proposal includes a 26 percent reduction to state grants for special education and millions of dollars in cuts to programs for students who are blind.) And, pressed by Rep. Jahana Hayes, a former National Teacher of the Year, she declines to say that she would prevent the use of federal education money to arm and train teachers.
NEA & CTA win lawsuit against DeVos. A federal court orders Betsy DeVos to implement protections for students in online programs—the latest blow to her anti-public education agenda.
Tone-deaf in South Carolina. During a visit to Nephron, a South Carolina pharmaceuticals plant, to promote workforce development, DeVos fails to acknowledge that the 650 educators employed there had taken on a second job to make ends meet. South Carolina ranks 40th in the nation in educator pay and the many educators who take on second, even third jobs to stay afloat helped fuel the #RedforEd protests in Columbia in May.
Department of Ed dismissing LGBTQ student discrimination complaints.
According to a report by the Center for American Progress, under DeVos, the Education Department is nine times less likely than the Obama administration to take action on Title IX complaints related to sexual orientation or gender – no surprise given the DOE’s reversals of Obama-era guidelines affirming protections for transgender students.
DeVos right-hand man nominated to Court of Appeals. During his tenure as Acting General Counsel at the DOE, Steven Menashi was a key architect of some of DeVos’ most disastrous policies, including the failure to protect students from predatory online institutions, weakening protections against sexual assault and harassment and failing to protect the student loan forgiveness program. In August, President Trump rewards Menashi with a nomination to the Second Court of Appeals.
Back-to-school tour spotlights privatization agenda. DeVos kicks off her 2019 back-to-school tour with a visit to a private religious school in Milwaukee, the city she calls the home of “modern education freedom.” Translation: the city that introduced the first private school voucher program. DeVos also makes time on her itinerary to visit Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School, which bans transgender students and staff. By lifting up this school, said Elisa Byard, executive director of GLSEN, DeVos is sending “a discouraging and dangerous message.”
DOE blocks student loan investigations. National news outlets report that the DOE has been throwing roadblocks in front of state law enforcement officials and federal regulators who are pursuing legal action against companies accused of cheating and misleading student borrowers – a “brazen act of lawlessness, says one former enforcement lawyer at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
DeVos tries to revive vouchers with … Kellyanne Conway? DeVos and Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to President Trump, team up at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank, to rally fading support for the Trump plan to cut $5 billion from public schools to fund private and religious schools, “Betsy DeVos and Kellyanne Conway are probably the two least qualified people in America to talk about how to best help students succeed,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.
Judge holds DeVos in contempt. A federal judge holds DeVos in contempt of court for violating a June 2018 order to stop collecting the loans from students defrauded by for-profit college conglomerate, Corinthian Colleges, Inc. The judge, who also fines the DOE $100,000, writes in her order, “there is no question” that DeVos and the department violated the preliminary injunction and “also no question that defendants’ violations harmed individual borrowers.”