On February 7th, the United States Senate confirmed Donald Trump’s controversial pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. The vote of Vice President Mike Pence acted as the tie breaker despite two female Republican senators (#girlpower, am I right?) breaking party lines to speak out against DeVos.
But who is Betsy DeVos? What kind of experience does she have and what exactly are her plans for our education system moving forward?
Here are five things you should know about our new Secretary of Education.
1. Betsy DeVos has no experience with public schools
I went to a big public schools my entire life, as did a lot of my close friends. It was entertaining, it was flawed, it shaped who I am today, and DeVos knows nothing about it. She never went to public school. She’s never taught in public schools. She didn’t even study education.
Past secretaries have been superintendents and professors, have served as the chair for the National Endowment for the Humanities, or were head of Chicago Public Schools. DeVos is most famous in the education circles for her infamous comments about how guns should be allowed in public schools to protect the students from grizzly bear attacks.
2. She’s a longtime Republican donor
Both DeVos and her husband’s families are extremely wealthy. Like the Draco Malfoy, have-your-own-house-elf, kind wealthy. Since 1970, the DeVos family has donated at least $200 million to right-wing causes, according to this Mother Jones piece. They’ve helped fund a lot of Republicans running for office and according to Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, there’s not a Republican president or presidential candidate in the last 50 years who hasn’t known the family.
3. She supports vouchers and charter schools
This, along with the phrase school choice, is one of the more controversial parts of DeVos’s almost nonexistent platform. Trump’s voucher plan – which requires $20 billion in federal dollars as well as $110 billion from the states – would give around $12,000 to lower income students to attend private schools of their choice, essentially reallocating this public money into funding these religious and private schools.
Private schools aren’t required to offer lessons in other languages or provide for English learning students or students with disabilities the same way that public schools do. Even though DeVos claims to want every student to be able to choose their education, these restrictions severely limit who can actually thrive in a private or charter school environment.
4. Her home state of Michigan suffered under her influence
According to a 2014 investigation by the Detroit Free Press,
“Michigan taxpayers pour nearly $1 billion a year into charter schools — but state laws regulating charters are among the nation’s weakest, and the state demands little accountability in how taxpayer dollars are spent and how well children are educated.”
Despite DeVos’s position that school choice expanded the opportunities of low income students in Michigan, there were no state standards for who was supposed to operate or oversee the charter schools. Michigan led the nation in schools that were run by for-profit organizations that could “take in taxpayer money and refuse to detail how they spent it.”
5. She doesn’t understand how rules work
The first thing that all of my professors go over on the first day of class are the rules about plagiarism. In high school, I actually had to sign a paper that said I was never going to pass someone else’s work on my own. This is where a public school education would have come in handy for DeVos because she appears to have copied quotes for her Senate questionnaire.
DeVos’s wrote this in response to a question about the bullying of LGBT students in school
“Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, thrive, and grow,”
This is what Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in May 2016 about the civil rights of transgender students.
“Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment that allows them to thrive and grow.”
Whether a coincidence or not, this disregard for integrity combined with the obvious lack of knowledge DeVos has about our country’s public school system has quickly turned her from a joke about grizzly bears, to a real situation vaguely reminiscent of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.