Never in our history has there been a more unqualified nominee for secretary of education than Betsy DeVos. Donald Trump’s nomination of the wealthy west Michigan activist/lobbyist should be a wake-up call for everyone who cares about our nation’s students having access to a high quality public education, regardless of their zip code.
The job of the secretary of education is to oversee American public education. But DeVos never attended public schools, never worked in a public school, never sent her children to public school, and was never elected to a position to influence education policy. However, thanks to her family’s major political contributions, she has had a major influence on education policy in Michigan — all of it bad.
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.
Michigan taxpayers contribute over $1 billion each year to our state’s charter schools. If one were to measure success in corporate profits, they are strikingly successful.
Unfortunately, if charter schools are measured by academic achievement, they are a spectacular failure. In fact, in terms of academic performance, the state School Reform Office’s list of the bottom 5 percent of schools in Michigan is dominated by charter schools.
In Detroit — widely recognized as having the worst urban charter schools in the nation — DeVos used her family’s Great Lakes Education Project to successfully lobby against legislation requiring increased charter accountability standards. Detroit charters have shown horrendous academic results, on top of a number of cases of bribery and embezzlement.
While DeVos’ lack of experience and expertise in public education is striking, her family’s willingness to bankroll her attacks on public education is even more so. In 2000, the DeVoses spent over $5 million on a failed statewide ballot initiative to amend Michigan’s constitution to allow public tax dollars to fund vouchers for private and religious schools — 68 percent of Michigan voters rejected the voucher proposal.
Last summer, the DeVoses opened their checkbooks to Republican legislators, contributing nearly $1.5 million shortly after they voted down the Detroit charter accountability legislation. Nominating a Republican mega-donor is hardly fulfilling Trump’s promise of “draining the swamp.”
DeVos’ efforts have resulted in real harm to hundreds of thousands of students across the state. Certainly students in failing Detroit charter schools — protected from accountability and closure through her lobbying and campaign contributions — are experiencing irreparable harm.
But so too are the students in traditional, neighborhood public schools across the state. Those students, educators and parents are feeling the effects of the loss of $1 billion in funding every year to support a largely failing charter school industry. That $1 billion would normally fund updated textbooks, improved technology and advanced professional development for teachers.
DeVos’ lobbying on behalf of the for-profit corporate charter school industry has been harmful to all of Michigan’s students and schools.
And now, we are on the verge of seeing that damage spread nationwide.
The United States Senate should recognize the danger DeVos poses to public education and reject her nomination.
Credit: The Detroit News