Nel's New Day

March 9, 2017

Betsy Devos: Huge Danger to the Nation

Billionaire activist Betsy DeVos and her family have given over $4 million to Republicans who have now confirmed her for Secretary of Education. Of that sum, $250,000 went directly to members of the education committee, $950,000 were given to 21 senators who voted to confirm her, and another $2.25 million was sent last fall to the Senate Leadership Fund, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) super PAC. The National Republican Senatorial Committee got another $900,000. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who promised to keep a rein on DDT, took $98,000 from DeVos and paid her back with his vote.   She followed the same process in Michigan, paying state Republicans $1.45 million in seven weeks after they passed the no-accountability charter school law. DeVos has said that she no longer takes offense at the accusations of buying politicians because “we do expect something in return.”

Before the confirmation of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, I posted about how she would be a disaster for education in the nation. Her blunders during the first few weeks on the job show that she is worse than many people may have predicted. In summary, she is a billionaire who wants all children to be force-fed her brand of Christianity in charter schools that massively profit already wealthy people—like her.

Her gaffes began on her first day as head of the education department when she tweeted, “Day 1 on the job is done, but we’re only getting started. Now where do I find the pencils? :)” Most schools in the United States are so poor that teachers have to buy their own pencils.

Devos’ actions thus far:

  • insulted teachers at a middle school for not helping students succeed
  • supports the idea of her department being erased
  • says that critics want “to make my life a living hell”
  • misspelled W.E.B. Du Bois in a tweet for Black History Month—and then had to fix the tweeted apology that stated “our deepest apologizes”
  • ignored the first Twitter chat that she held for teachers
  • asked teachers to make up for children’s troubles at home such as absent fathers
  • made U.S. marshals protect her and ran away because protesters blocked her entrance to a DC school
  • accused protesters of “keeping kids in and new thinking out,” “how hostile some people are to change and to new ideas”
  • sold out transgender students to allow AG Jeff Sessions to discriminate against them in using facilities corresponding to their gender identity
  • and, surprise, gave her top priority as “school choice” that destroys public schools

DeVos’ responses to the hearings were so bad that her  confirmation required Mike Pence to be the first vice president in history to break a 50-50 tie to confirm a Cabinet nominee.

Her job may not last long. A House bill, HR 899, dissolves the Department of Education and another, HR 610, provides educational vouchers and repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, including nutritional standards for school meals. The only responsibility left to the department—if it continues to exist—would be to award block grants to states with the $20 billion for vouchers that DDT wants. There may not be enough support to shut down the Education Department, but Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) wants $20 billion for vouchers, most of the department’s budget for local communities largely used for low-income students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and other vulnerable children.  

After trying to compliment teachers at Washington’s Jefferson Academy by calling them “wonderful,” she told them that they were “not going to bring success to an individual child” because they were in “receive mode, waiting to be told what they have to do.”

DeVos tried to help DDT woo blacks for the 2020 election in her statement:

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) … are the real pioneers when it comes to school choice.  They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”

Her revisionist history purports that the Jim Crow education system of legal segregation gave black students “more options” as if they had the option of attending all white schools before the Supreme Court ruling that began to eliminate permissible racial discrimination. The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo’s analogy:

“To paint historically black colleges as pioneers of ‘school choice’ is like saying the Montgomery bus boycott was a transportation startup.”

There was much controversy about the perch of Kellyanne Conway, DDT’s counselor, during the meeting with HBCU leaders. Some photographs show her taking a photo, but her real insult was that she couldn’t even get the name for the group correct when she talked to Lou Dobbs on his TV program. In addition, the photo op, proposed at the last minute to show DDT’s comfort with blacks, left those attending with little time to communicate with the man in the White House about the current state of these institutions. DDT plans to fund only the private sector instead of directly supporting HBCUs and requested that the White House Initiative on HBCUs be removed from the Department of Education.

In reality, DeVos has little power because Congress weakened the power of the executive department two years ago. Congress will be the one to create a voucher system and remove more standards for education in the nation. But she can create trouble by taking no action in other areas that creates more difficulty—for example, not investigating, complaints in the area of sexual assaults and reverse rules requiring colleges to use a lower standard of proof in determining sexual assault. DeVos might also ignore part of Title IX, reversing the progress of female athletes in schools. One way is to divert funds to the Office of Civil Rights which leaves the Department of Education unable to address IX complaints even if DeVos chooses to do so. The percentage of female high school athletes has gone from seven percent to 42 percent since the law was implemented. Title IX isn’t just about sports and transgender issues: it protects “pregnant and parenting students, women in STEM programs, and victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence,” according to Neena Chaudhry, Director of Education and Senior Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center.

DDT will definitely “relax” the past crackdown on for-profit colleges, including a new regulation relieving students of loans if they prove their college defrauded them. Under DDT, Trump University might not have had to pay $25 million. An indicator is the way that stocks have shot up—DeVry over 40 percent, Stayer’s 35 percent, and Grand Canyon Education over 28 percent. The GOP will also try to disappear the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that tries to protect consumers from predatory for-profit colleges.

About Betsy DeVos, education historian and researcher Diane Ravitch wrote:

“She was never a student, a parent, an educator, or school board member of public schools. It is her life’s work to tear down public education. She does not respect the line of separation between church and state. She supports for-profit charter schools…. She is ignorant of federal law, federal programs and federal policy. When asked at her Senate hearing about the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, she did not know it was a federal law. She had given no thought to lessening the burden of debt that college students bear, which now exceeds $1 trillion. At a time when the federal role in aiding students with the high cost of college needs to be redesigned, she knows nothing about it.

“… DeVos has financial conflicts of interest which she refuses to divest. She told the Senate committee that she had no role in her mother’s foundation, which has funneled millions of dollars to anti-LGBT organizations, but her name appears on 17 years of the foundation’s audited tax returns. She told the committee that online charter corporations produce stellar results, but researchers demonstrated with facts that she was wrong.

“Choice policies in Michigan have caused the test scores in that state to decline. Detroit, overrun with charters and choice, is a chaotic mess….

“She personifies the privatization movement. She is the leader of the Billionaire Girls Club, spreading her millions across the land to reward and enrich allies in Congress, on state and local school boards, and in any setting where she could tout school choice as a magical remedy for poor performance. Charters and vouchers, whether for-profit or nonprofit, is her sole idea. She has singlehandedly stripped bare the ‘reform’ movement, showing it to be not a civil rights movement but a privatization movement funded by billionaires and religious zealots.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) told his protesting constituents at a town hall meeting that they cared so much about Betsy DeVos that she probably had too much power. Our conservative representatives don’t want people to care about what happens in the government.

In a country that almost never recognizes the name of the Secretary of Education, almost half of the people have an opinion—and two thirds of them have an unfavorable opinion of Betsy DeVos. Her lack of approval at 31 percent is worse than that for Jeff Sessions (23 percent) and Mike Pence (28 percent).

The greatest danger that DeVos might do to education in the United States is the proposed voucher program—the subject for the next blog post.

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