By: Alexsis Beltran
Billionaire Betsy DeVos is regarded as a major GOP funder and one of the party’s activists. The Michigan native has recently gained media coverage after Donald Trump tapped her as the next Secretary of the United States Department of Education. This choice was welcomed with an apparent, growing number of criticisms within the nation– primarily focused on school choice, vouchers and the future for public education.
Clamorous objections to DeVos concerns her wealth, her family’s political donations to the GOP and whether she has personal experience with the financial load many students are facing. The Senate confirmed her on Tuesday as Education Secretary with the help of an unprecedented tiebreaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence.
For many in the education community, it is anomalous to have DeVos as the steward of the nation’s schools. Neither DeVos nor her four children attended a public school. She has never taken a loan to pay for her education. She was fortunate with the opportunity of growing up in a wealthy family and marrying a multi-billionaire heir to the Amway fortune.
A staunch fundamentalist, she invested millions of dollars to push for a rather biblical environment where taxpayer dollars are used for private and religious schools. She regarded school choice and school voucher programs as vehicles to “build God’s Kingdom.” (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/02/07/5-faith-facts-betsy-devos/97601374/ and http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/betsy-devos-education-trump-religion-232150) She condemned the current public education system as unproductive and advocated for-profit schools. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/betsy-devos-christian-schools-vouchers-charter-education-secretary and https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4647958/tim-kaine-questions-betsy-devos) Her deep ties to the Christian reform community has made her a controversial political figure in Michigan.
DeVos is an interesting addition to the Trump administration seeing that she has experience in contributing to transforming our broken education system in a way that reflects the purpose of even having an education system. She heads the Board of Alliance for School Choice and Action Institute and the All Children Matter PAC. In 2011, she advocated for the Detroit charter school system (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/betsy-devos-christian-schools-vouchers-charter-education-secretary). However, the actions that have been executed under her account undermine public education. “Never has anyone been appointed to lead in the past 150 years who was hostile to public education” Education historian Diane Ravitch told Mother Jones when news broke out about the nomination. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/11/education-secretary-betsy-devos-vouchers-michigan-trump)
President Donald Trump ran a campaign that called for $20 billion in federal money to promote school choice; which the Republican Party refers to as a nationwide movement that protects the constitutional rights of the parents’ by enabling them to choose what type of education is best suited for their child. The upcoming Education Secretary is regarded by numerous conservatives as a unifier to the school choice advocates across the political spectrum.
However, such unification is beyond reach at this point because even what was supposed to be her solid support base is divided. Two Republicans sided with the Democrat senators in opposition of DeVos’s confirmation: Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Being influenced by the thousands of phone calls received condemning DeVos, The lawmakers regarded her as unqualified because her negligence for public schools and the laws meant to protect students.
The fact that an ethics review was not completed before her confirmation hearing raised major concerns among the critics. DeVos’s family has a line of financial investments that increase possibility for conflicts of interest regarding connection with her financial interests and political contributions. A number of the
Senators that voted in favor of DeVos received contributions from the wealthy family increasing her chances to get confirmed. She even donated to the presidential campaign of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. During her confirmation hearing, she noted the possibly of her family contributing 20 million dollars to the Republican Party when confronted by Senator Bernie Sanders.
Betsy DeVos has been met with an uproar regarding the perplexed answers she provided when grilled by Democrat senators. When asked by Senator Tim Kaine whether all schools that receive public money should follow the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, she replied that it should be left to the states to decide. When he asked whether all schools that received taxpayer funding should be equally accountable, she replied “no”, again raising red flags to public education advocates (https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4647958/tim-kaine-questions-betsy-devos)
This exchange spread across the internet resulting to the creation of a petition in change.org that has gathered 426,209 supporters accusing her of not supporting equal rights to students as outlined in IDEA. Betsy DeVos had an unfriendly path towards her confirmation, engulfed with demonstrations across the country, constituents and advocates storming in their state senators’ phone lines and emails. After having lost the fight, protestors will seek that DeVos gets an uphill battle when attempting to implement unsatisfactory agenda.