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DeVos: Public Schools for Private Profit

January 12, 2017


Meet Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education.

She was born rich and then got even richer when she married Dick DeVos, son of the founder of Amway.  [Note: Amway is a household product “multi-level marketing” company which in 2010 paid $150 million to settle a class-action suit alleging that the company was an illegal pyramid scheme which induced salespeople to buy thousands of dollars of overpriced products and useless “success tools” and then to recruit others to do the same in an endless chain scheme that doomed, by design, nearly all to lose money. No wonder Trump likes her!] Her brother Eric Prince founded Blackwater, the private security/mercenary company that achieved notoriety during the Bush administration for its abuses as a government contractor in Iraq.

Both she, her brother, and the entire family,  have been major contributors to the Republican party for decades, and she is a former chairperson of the Michigan Republican Party.  The New York Times reported that “In the 2016 cycle alone, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the family spent roughly $14 million on political contributions to state and national candidates, parties, PACs and super PACs.”

She and her family have also contributed generously to the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an “anti-LGBTQ extremist group.”

Like the Koch Brothers, she is fiercely anti-union and anti-taxation, especially when it comes to taxes that particularly affect the wealthy, and her PACs worked on the legal strategy for Citizens United.  Her family’s money was a major factor in passing Michigan’s right-to-work law, which has been a major blow to the state’s unions.  The American Federation of Teachers has been her particular target, which brings us to the subject of schools.

DeVos has been a tireless, and very effective, advocate for “school choice”, which means both public charter schools (many of them for profit) and vouchers to use public funds toward tuition in private and religious schools.   Her Great Lakes Education Project has led to a proliferation of such charter schools in Michigan, particularly in the Detroit area, in recent years.

However, critics say that the results as measured by test scores have not shown that the Michigan charter schools in general have performed any better than traditional public schools, and that Michigan test scores–especially in urban areas–remain among the lowest in the country.  They note that the expansion of charter schools has bled funds from regular public schools, and that there is little or no oversight or accountability for the groups running charter schools, which continue to get public funds regardless of results.

DeVos’s lobbyists managed to bury deep in last minute changes to an uncontroversial campaign finance bill a provision that made it much harder for local bodies like school boards to raise funds through property tax increases.

All of this leads many, including me, to conclude that the real agenda here is to weaken or destroy the country’s public schools and replace them with private or religious schools paid for with public tax funds.  Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and a vocal opponent of DeVos, charges that “If DeVos is confirmed–…if she reignites the education wars–she will demonstrate that her ultimate goal is to undermine public schools, the schools that 90 percent of American children attend.”

We all know that there are serious problems with the education system in this country, and no one has every answer.  But a large part of the problems, particularly in urban areas, stem ultimately from the exodus of white middle class students whose parents have either moved to ethnically “preferable” suburbs or enrolled their kids in private or religious schools.  This has resulted politically in declining commitment to public education and reduced funding in many areas, particularly those with declining tax bases.

What is needed is a pragmatic, evidence-based approach to reform.  We do not need to have our nation’s education policy set by a super-rich right-wing ideologue like Betsy DeVos, who never attended public schools nor sent her kids to them.

Again, if you agree, let your senators know.


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