Vol. 31, No. 2
Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. secretary of education, is a denizen of the swamp he promised to drain. A billionaire member of the Republican right wing, she describes her school “reform” efforts as a campaign to “advance God’s Kingdom.”
Sarah Lazare at Alternet calls her a “founding funder of the modern education privatization movement.” Since the 1990s, DeVos has used her enormous financial resources to push vouchers and charter schools, destroy teacher and other public sector unions, and dismantle public education.
DeVos, who comes from a wealthy family in her own right (her brother is Erik Prince, founder of the mercenary company Blackwater USA), married into the DeVos Amway empire, which Mother Jones called “The new Kochs.” The public interest watchdog Progress Michigan noted, “The DeVos family has been using their deep pockets to influence the Michigan legislature for years, and it looks like they have finally bought their way into a presidential administration as well.” Betsy, who twice chaired the Michigan Republican Party, once boasted: “My family is the largest single contributor of so money to the national Republican Party. . . . I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point.”
Like the Koch brothers’ support for Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-labor crusade in Wisconsin, the DeVos family’s political operation in Michigan bolstered Gov. Rick Snyder’s assault on public services and labor union political power, facilitating Trump’s narrow electoral victory. DeVos and her husband fund a broad swath of right-wing causes, including campaigns against gay marriage and reproductive rights.
DeVos has no public education experience and has never been a public school parent. However, as a megafunder, influence peddler, and chair of the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice, she has pushed for the unlimited, unregulated expansion of private, charter, and even cyber schools as a matter of economic, ideological, and religious conviction.
If confirmed, her top priority will be promoting Trump’s pledge to pour $20 billion into vouchers for private schools, religious schools, and for-profit charter schools. The plan would divert funds from Title I, the largest federal education program supporting schools serving children in poverty.
Unfortunately, many aspects of privatization are “bipartisan issues” and too many Democratic politicians are scrambling to normalize Trump’s universe. As a result, DeVos’ nomination has received support from some Democrats as well as Republicans. Democrats for Education Reform, a pro-charter, anti-teacher-union lobby, congratulated DeVos on her nomination and pledged to work with her on charter expansion. New Jersey Senator Corey Booker, heralded by some as among the Democratic Party’s next generation of leaders, once served on the board of DeVos’ Alliance for School Choice.
However, as of early December, more than 85,000 people had sent letters to Congress opposing DeVos’ confirmation. The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, the Network for Public Education (NPE), and others are planning protests and demonstrations in an effort to block the nomination. As NPE President Diane Ravitch said: “Betsy DeVos’ hostility to public schools makes her unfit to be secretary of education. She has a long record of supporting private and religious schools, not public schools. Those of us who believe that public education is a public responsibility, not a consumer good, must resist her nomination. Police departments, fire fighters, public libraries, public parks, public beaches, public schools: these belong to all of us.” ◼