The Deliberate Destruction of Public Education from Within
In today’s America, you can be unqualified, self-serving, and still attain the highest power positions. Our wonderful Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is the prime example of that. She’s been disastrous for public education and is now instrumental in being catastrophic for public health, pushing for school reopening in a pandemic.
Her lack of qualification was a glaring fact from the time of her nomination. She’s never been a public school teacher. That’s like me running a hospital when I’ve never treated a patient. The National Education Association did a video on why she was unqualified to keep the Senate from confirming her. They still confirmed her but barely. Vice President, Mike Pence had to cast the deciding vote.
The most she did as an educator in the classroom was mentor at-risk students in a public school. She’s never taught at all and doesn’t even have the education to be hired as a teacher. She was a business economics major.
Her career in education policy is notable for how she diverts funds from public schools to private schools. As “one of the architects of Detroit’s charter school system,” she led what advocates for privatization called “one of the biggest school reform disasters in the country.”
As Secretary of Education, in 2017, she supported Trump’s budget proposal to cut funding for the Department of Education. She asked Congress for $250 million for school vouchers to lead public education to privatization. Congress denied her.
Doesn’t protect the most vulnerable students
DeVos intentionally attempts to cut funding to the most vulnerable students. In three budget requests, she tried to cut funding to the Special Olympics, only reversing her stance when the president publicly supported funding. This year, she cut funding to 800 rural schools by changing how the department reports student poverty. Her department has not consistently taken action on complaints related to sexual orientation or gender. On her watch, the department has reversed protections for transgender students.
She has blocked legal action against companies that have defrauded student borrowers. She defied a court order and was held in contempt of court for trying to collect on loans from borrowers who attended a closed for-profit college. In these and many other instances, she has shown she is on the side of fraudulent businesses and not students.
At the beginning of her tenure, she rescinded Obama-era mandates regarding sexual assault policy to support the rights of the accused. In May, DeVos made changes to regulations that allowed accused rapists to cross-examine victims, making sexual assault reports less likely on college campuses and silencing women. Women’s rights groups have argued these changes take accountability away from schools, traumatize survivors, and make the college environment less safe.
Even during a pandemic, she is still only focused on privatizing schools and not the safety of students and staff. She diverted $180 million of coronavirus relief money to a voucher program for private and religious schools. Then, she ordered states to redirect CARES Act funds from public schools to private schools.
Just last month, she threatened to withhold funds from schools if they didn’t fully reopen in fall and divert those funds to private and religious schools. She emphasized that school leaders should have a plan for a safe reopening while she, the primary leader in public education, had no strategy. In a CNN interview, DeVos did say each district had to make plans according to their situation, and “there is no one uniform approach.” Still, she emphasized that all schools had to go back to students full-time in the classroom. In the same interview where she could have made a convincing argument to reopen schools, she chose instead to push school choice, which is her go-to line for vouchers. Again, she finds a way to push her agenda over the needs of students and families.
The Secretary of Education has left public school educators to fend for themselves in a public health crisis.
A leader who doesn’t lead
DeVos’s real interest as the head of the Department of Education is to promote privatizing education so she and her billionaire cohorts can make even more money. She has no interest in families, students, or teachers.
If she did, she wouldn’t divert funds from institutions she’s supposed to improve. She would have held companies that defrauded students accountable. She wouldn’t have tried to force borrowers to pay loans for educations they did not receive.
She is an advocate for the billionaire class, not for students, families, or teachers.
When the schools reopen, we’ll see the price all those people she is not fighting for have to pay.