Anyone who believes that public education is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy should be extremely concerned by President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to appoint billionaire charter school advocate Betsy DeVos, of Michigan, to the post of Education Secretary.
DeVos, whose family reportedly has “has a long history of supporting anti-gay causes — including donating hundreds of thousands to ‘Focus on the Family’, a conservative Christian organization that supports so-called conversion therapy aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation,” has been quoted comparing her work in education reform to a biblical battleground where she wants to “advance God’s Kingdom.”
And not only does the appointment of DeVos reek of pay to play, but it also raises the same kinds of conflict of interest problems that continue to dog the President-elect himself.
Just look at FollowTheMoney.org’s report on Mrs. DeVos’ political donations to the Republican Party and to education reform organizations. According to FollowTheMoney.org, from 2000 to 2016 she provided $1.03 million to the Republican Party, another $486,786 to Republican candidates, $391,000 to independent expenditure committees, and $125,000 on ballot measures.
One hopes that anyone who complained about the relationship of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Clinton Foundation will now be equally as vocal about such conflicts of interests now, although House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has shown no sign of such integrity. The same man who, back in June, justified the multiple investigations of Mrs. Clinton to CNN’s Jake Tapper: “I think it goes without saying we should treat people fairly. No one should be above the rules, no one should be above the law, and that’s what we’re looking for, equality . . . so that we’re holding people to the same set of standards. That’s the problem with Washington, is people think there’s self-dealing everybody is being held to different standards. And the problem is that that’s true!”
Congressman Ryan apparently knows a thing or two about holding people to different standards, because when asked by CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin how he wants the president-elect to address his conflicts of interest (which far outweigh those of Mrs. Clinton in that they are for personal profit rather than for a foundation), Ryan responded: “However he wants to. You know, this is not what I’m concerned about in Congress.”
When pressed on it again, Ryan said: “I have every bit of confidence he’s going to get himself right with moving from being the business guy that he is to the president he’s going to become. I’m focused on getting this agenda passed so that we can turn around and tackle this country’s big problems before they tackle us. That is what I’m focused on. And not the legal details of how he divorces himself from his business, which I know he will.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is showing zero signs of doing his job when it comes to a Republican president-elect who hasn’t even made his tax returns public.
But it’s not just in Washington that shameless hypocrisy reigns.
Here in Connecticut, charter school advocate Jennifer Alexander, of ConnCAN, remarked to the Hartford Courant on the DeVos’ appointment: “Based on what I know of her, she does seem to be a strong advocate for choice, particularly for our most vulnerable students . . . And she does seem to be a strong advocate for high standards and accountability for results.” But the vast majority of the results speak for themselves.
Here’s Stephen Henderson, Editorial Page Editor of the Detroit Free Press, whose newspaper did a year-long investigation into the $1 billion Michigan spends annually on charter schools thanks to the lobbying from the DeVos family, with little or no accountability.
“The most accurate assessment is that charter schools have simply created a second, privately managed failing system. Yes, there are high-performing outliers — a little more than 10 percent of the charter schools perform in the top tier. But in Detroit, the best schools are as likely to be traditional public schools.
DeVos and her family have not been daunted by these outcomes. It’s as if the reams of data showing just incremental progress or abysmal failure don’t matter. Their belief in charter schools is unshakable, their resistance to systematic reforms that would improve both public and charter schools unyielding.
Betsy DeVos’ lodestar has been her conviction that any nontraditional public school is better than a traditional one, simply because it’s not operated by government.
Charter school advocates like DeVos reject any criticism of charters as a defense of the status quo. But that’s a gross and partisan distortion … DeVos and her family have stood in the way of improving what we have. They’ve stood for the charter industry and its middling results, over our kids.
I’m certain she’ll try to make the nation’s charter landscape look more like the chaos we face here in Detroit, and less like it does in states like Tennessee or Massachusetts or Maryland — all much better performers who have tighter reins on charter creation and proliferation.
Her lobbying hasn’t been good for Detroit, or Michigan. It won’t be good for the nation.”
For those who believed Mr. Trump when he promised to “drain the swamp,” it’s time wake up to smell the very bitter coffee — and I urge the Senate not to confirm this highly unqualified and inappropriate pick.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU (and as such is an AAUP member), and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
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