Education News

DeVos swipes at public school educators as she defends privatization agenda to media

By Amanda Litvinov

In her remarks at the 72nd Education Writers Association Conference in Baltimore on Monday, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos took pot shots at educators while she talked up her anti-public education agenda.

In the past, DeVos turned down the invitation to speak at the event.

This year, she used the occasion to justify her efforts to undermine public education. She also managed to avoid answering the toughest questions, including some about her decision to rescind policies meant to protect students’ civil rights.

Here are four telling moments from the event:

1. DeVos claimed that tax credit programs such as her $5 billion “Education Freedom Scholarship” proposal are not voucher plans.

It’s a favorite tactic of the privatization movement: attempting to re-brand a voucher plan using a new name and a slightly different mechanism for accessing taxpayer money. But whether they’re called “Education Saving Accounts,” “Tuition Tax Credits” or “Freedom Scholarships,” the result is always the same: All of these schemes direct taxpayer dollars to private schools, leaving less money for public schools.

Under such a plan, individuals and companies earn tax credits by donating money to nonprofit scholarship funds. Students then can use the funds to attend private schools, including religious schools.

DeVos’ tax credit proposal is worse than similar ones already on the books in 17 states. That’s because it gives a dollar-for-dollar credit, meaning that every dollar given takes a dollar off the donor’s tax bill.

DeVos defended it again during her on-stage interview with New York Times reporter Erica L. Green, who noted that even some Republicans have voiced their reservations. DeVos claimed her proposal “is not going to take anything away from anyone or anywhere.”

That is simply false. Tax credit vouchers will drain public funding from public schools. Under these plans, potential taxes are never paid, which in turn decreases the overall amount in the coffers. This makes less money available for public schools, where 90 percent of students go.

2. DeVos said “there is no such thing as public money.”

There’s a reason that DeVos and her supporters would like to eradicate the term “public money.” That’s shorthand for the tax dollars that the government collects to pay for schools and roads and hospitals—the things that should benefit everyone.

DeVos said there is no public money, only money earned by individuals. That’s an attempt to suppress the idea that we all kick in to pay for a system that promotes the common good. The idea is, “Hey, that’s my money, I should get to decide where it goes.”

It’s all part of the attempt by those who want to privatize education to justify a system where individuals can direct taxpayer money to private schools that are entirely unaccountable to the public, including religious schools.

3. DeVos avoided answering questions about her decision to roll back guidance on school discipline.

It took some serious bobbing and weaving, but Betsy DeVos avoided answering questions about how rolling back guidelines designed to make school discipline policies more fair for students of color would in any way make schools safer.

The backstory: In December 2018, President Trump appointed DeVos to head up the Federal Commission on School Safety following the horrific school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on February 14, 2018. The following December, the Trump administration released the report from the Federal Commission on School Safety to address gun violence in schools.

The report recommends stripping protections that seek to prevent racial disparities in student discipline. These guidelines were put into place to address the wide racial gap in school suspensions and expulsions.

Green asked repeatedly for DeVos to explain the connection between what happened in Parkland and the discipline guidance several times. Here is part of DeVos said:

“Well, I think it’s important to remember that the commission was established to study school safety. It was in the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy, but it wasn’t a focus on Parkland. It was really to talk about ways that educators and community should and may consider how to make sure that students are safe when they go to school, that teachers are safe when they go to school, and how to prevent these things in the future. Not to always be in the place of reacting to them.”

Finally, DeVos claimed that tying the report and the rollback together was inaccurate, that they had been separate efforts all along.

4. DeVos accused educators of “hurting kids” when they marched for investments to improve schools

Over the past year-and-a-half, educators have walked out, rallied, gone on strike, and protested under the #RedForEd banner to demand that state and local policymakers address their pleas for more investment in their schools and fair pay for educators. DeVos claimed educators are “hurting kids in the process” by being out of the classroom. She admonished educators, saying they should have “adult disagreements on adult time.”

This theme would come up again later at the conference, at a panel discussion on the teacher walkouts.

During that session, Shavar Jeffries of Democrats for Education Reform, which supports more charter schools, said that unions would have the public believe that walking out is the only lever they have to pull. Jeffries said educators should exhaust every lever before leaving the school or classroom to protest.

Dov Rosenberg, a veteran educator and union activist from Durham, N.C., responded that political action isn’t harming students when the whole point of a walkout is to improve students learning.

“It is the last lever,” said Rosenberg. “We tried phone banks, letters to representatives, and supporting legislation that would increase funding, and it didn’t work. We have to use what power we have, and the most power we have is our labor. We are furious that our students are forced to learn in the miserable conditions we are required to work.”

Access a video and a transcript of DeVos’ appearance at the Education Writers Association Conference on Education Week’s Policy K-12 blog.


15 responses to “DeVos swipes at public school educators as she defends privatization agenda to media

    1. DeVos, like those in this administration has no skill for functioning in the job that she agreed to do. She is a threat to America’s children AND TO THE FUTURE OF OUR REPUBLIC!

  1. I challenge Betsy Devon to spend one whole day (8:00-3:30) with me, in our school, in my classroom, with my kindergarteners. Then I want her to explain to me exactly how I am hurting those kids! I want her to explain to me why they do not deserve a well funded education! As a kindergarten teacher I spend hundreds of dollars of my own money so they can have the education they deserve.

  2. She needs to go! She has no idea what public education is to those in the workforce. She has no idea what we do. This is seperating the rich from the poor. Charter schools do not want our kids, and when they get them they come back to our schools. I have an idea if you want to save our schools do like other countries go K-10 then in 10th if kids want to go on the college track they stay for two more years. If they dont they go to a trade school owned by companies, that will save you 7.1 billion… Another idea. Set up academy model nation wide and gear Math, English, Science, and Social Studies, around the academy models. Where students earn certifications and are ready for the workforce…

    1. One of the programs that need serious funding is parent education. Many parents are clueless about how much home life affects student performance.

  3. Betsy DeVos is the largest atrocity in the government next to the orange president! She cares nothing about public schools or education because she knows nothing about it! Her idea is nothing but robbery for her own agenda. Her ideas are great for getting rid of Trump though because he is too dumb to stop it!

    1. Actually, it is not her own agenda. She is just one of the right wing conservatives who, in concert, are assaulting our democracy.

  4. You need to ask the question if you would send your children to public school in its current status, staffing and funding available for improvement?

  5. The policies promoted by Betsy DeVos clearly do not support fair access to all children for equal opportunities and the right to public education for the good of us all.

  6. Interesting that rolling back policies on discipline is an act that will only result in removing minority students for the most part. This was meant to be a task force on school safety because of school shootings. Minority kids don’t come to school and commit mass murder, White kids do!

  7. Perhaps Devos needs a lesson in Civics and one in economics to learn about “public goods and services” and their role in a free market economy. Obviously she doesn’t understand. I would hate to think she acts this way because she is evil.

  8. She is not fit to run the department of education. She bought her position and has no idea of the negative impact she has. Since she knows nothing about public education and the advancement s that have been made. Her agenda is to continue to support private cyber schools since she owns many and she continues to make money on the backs of public education. She is a billionaire who knows nothing about public education and so far her agenda has put many disabled student funding at sever rusk. She needs to be fired or impeached from her position. RSA and vocational rehabilitation federal funding has been severely cut because of Betsy Devos.

  9. The woman must be stopped!
    Trump needs to examine the internal agenda and qualifications of Betsy DeVos.
    The United States deserves better! Her leadership decisions are NOT good for children or professional educators. Terrible cabinet choice!

    1. Betsy Devos HAS to GO. She’s not good for education – in fact an enemy of Public School. Instead of working to improve it, she wants to sink tons of Taxpayer funds into vouchers.

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