We the People: Why DeVos?

Why did U.S. senators receive thousands of telephone calls from constituents expressing opposition to the appointment of Betsy DeVos as education secretary? Her unfamiliarity with the U.S. school system and her inflexible ideological commitment to the principle of “school choice” above anything else prompted people to let legislators know the nominee was not qualified to administer our education system.

However, the White House ignored it all, including the fact the Senate failed to confirm the nominee, and utilized parliamentary procedure to make Betsy DeVos education secretary.

Despite the telephone calls and the defection of two Republicans, the Senate deadlocked on Mr. Trump’s choice for education secretary and she was confirmed only after Vice President Pence, for the first time in history, broke a 50-50 tie and voted to confirm the controversial nominee.

Republicans Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) opposed DeVos because she is “a fierce proponent of school vouchers” that allow students to attend private schools with public funding.

DeVos, a Calvinist Christian, in 2001 identified education activism and reform as a means to “advance God’s Kingdom.” She described the education system as “broken.” Her positions as well as her sub-par performance at her confirmation hearing prompted the two Republicans to defect.

Senator Jeff Sessions, nominated for attorney general, was allowed to vote to insure the tie. Republicans arranged for the Sessions confirmation to follow the DeVos vote since if he had been confirmed before, he would have had to resign from the Senate and would have been unable to vote for DeVos.

Secretary DeVos was ill-prepared for questions about public education at the confirmation hearing but was unfazed by her lack of familiarity with the bureaucracy responsible for the education of 50 million schoolchildren. She and President Trump possess an unflappable confidence in personal infallibility based upon the accomplishment of being wealthy.

When asked by Senator Al Franken about whether student test scores should be a measure of proficiency or of growth, she appeared unfamiliar with the debate over the difference. Afterward, he said, DeVos is “an ideologue who knows next to nothing about education policy [which] she demonstrated in her confirmation hearing.”

DeVos testified that she would be “vigilant,” without giving any detail, in protecting students from fraud by for-profit universities, like the ones bilked by Trump University who President Trump was forced to pay $25 million in order to settle litigation.

She refused to commit to the principle of “equal accountability” for all schools receiving taxpayer money. DeVos, a long-time advocate for the Detroit charter school system — described by Professor Douglas Harris of Tulane University as “what even charter advocates acknowledge is the biggest school reform disaster in the country” — will, without doubt, work to advance the Detroit model throughout the nation.

Her testimony also revealed her ignorance of the Individuals with Disabilities Act, which guarantees public education services to students with special needs. Secretary DeVos defended the presence of guns in schools by saying that in rural areas firearms may be needed to defend against “potential grizzlies.”

DeVos grew up in Michigan, the daughter of Edgar Prince, a billionaire industrialist, and married Dick DeVos, Jr., the multi-billionaire heir to the Amway fortune. Richard DeVos, Sr., is the owner of the Orlando Magic basketball team and ranked as America’s 88th wealthiest individual by Forbes, with a net worth of $5.1 billion.  His son Dick and Betsy give millions to Republican and Conservative politicians.

Betsy DeVos’s credentials as an educator include serving as chair of the Michigan Republican Party from 1996 to 2000, donating more than $150,000 to the Bush campaign in 2004 and serving as finance chairperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The DeVos family has funneled more than $17 million to Republican and Conservative political candidates and organizations since 1989. Atlantic magazine reported that Betsy DeVos once stated, “My family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence [and] simply concede the point.”

Stephen Henderson, Detroit Free Press editor, said it best, “DeVos isn’t an educator, or an education leader. She’s not an expert in pedagogy … she has no relevant credentials or experience for a job setting standards … for the nation’s public schools. She is, in essence, a lobbyist … someone who has used her extraordinary wealth to influence the conversation about education reform, and to bend that conversation to her ideological convictions despite the dearth of evidence supporting them.”

Did Mr. Trump choose an ideologue lobbyist unprepared for the responsibility of educating America’s children to be education secretary because of tens of millions of dollars of donations to politicians or because this is how he intends to “drain the swamp?”

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