In a presidential administration that seems to function as a turnstile with people coming and going from their positions on a nearly continuous basis, one person seems to be a constant: Betsy DeVos. It’s no surprise, of course. She and her husband and other families members give enormous amounts of money to Republicans. The Center for Responsive Politics found the DeVos family had given over $20 million to Republicans between 1989 and 2016. That’s a whopping figure that buys some serious political influence, something DeVos herself has acknowledged. “I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence,” she told Roll Call. “Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return… We expect a return on our investment.”
One of those “returns on [their] investment” was being anointed as the United States Secretary of Education. Once elevated to that lofty position, she has risen to the maximum level of influence possible in the realm of education. And she clearly plans to exert that influence.
This week, during an appearance at the Education Writers Association annual conference, DeVos literally redefined the meaning of the phrase “public education”:
“Let’s stop and rethink the definition of public education,” she said. “Today, it’s often defined as one type of school, funded by taxpayers, controlled by government. But if every student is part of ‘the public,’ then every way and every place a student learns is ultimately of benefit to ‘the public.’ That should be the new definition of public education.“
This is quite clearly a statement that DeVos wants to do nationally what she has failed to do twice in her home state of Michigan: institute a voucher program that would funnel tax dollars away from public schools and into the coffers of private, often for-profit, schools.
Much has been written about the DeVos plan to turn education into a business where schools are in fierce competition with each other for limited resources. Right now, private schools are on the outside looking in as tax dollars are spent on actual public schools. As they gaze adoringly at all of those sweet, sweet tax dollars they are missing out on, DeVos has another motivation, as well. She’s a Dominionist and both she and her husband want government working to advance their religious worldview:
[I]n a 2001 interview for The Gathering, a group focused on advancing Christian faith through philanthropy, she and her husband offered a rare public glimpse of their views. Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos replied, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”
Added Dick DeVos: “As we look at many communities in our country, the church has been displaced by the public school as the center for activity…[I]t is certainly our hope that more and more churches will get more and more active and engaged in education.”
By redefining “public schools” to mean any school whatsoever, DeVos is cracking open the window toward using tax dollars to promote schools that, as she puts it “advance God’s Kingdom”. It’s something we here at Eclectablog have been warning the country about for years. And now it’s playing out right in front of the nation’s eyes.
Another thing DeVos told the Education Writers Association conference attendees is that Michigan, despite all her extreme efforts, still does not have what she calls “education freedom”:
“The reality is, Michigan doesn’t have wide open choice,” the U.S. education secretary told journalists on Monday at the annual gathering of the Education Writers Association. “Michigan only has the opportunity to offer charter schools, and in my book, that’s one step towards choice, but that’s not education freedom.”
Full freedom, to DeVos, would include voucher programs that allow families to spend taxpayer dollars on tuition to private schools.
These statements are ludicrous when you consider that Michigan is sixth in the nation in the number of charter schools it has, fifth in total charter school enrollment, and seventh in the percentage of students attending charter schools (at almost 10%.)
Betsy DeVos will not rest until every public school is engaged in a pitched battle for funding with other public schools AND with private schools. Instead of adequately funding our schools from the outset, she wants schools that have inadequate resources to slowly circle the drain until they have to close their doors. This, then, is what she sees as good for students. In her convoluted, “market oriented” view, those kids unfortunate enough to have to attend poorly-resourced public schools that are forced to spend precious time and resources “competing” are somehow better off than if we just gave their schools the resources they require NOW.
It should be clearly evident to anyone thinking rationally that this is a recipe for creating an educational underclass. But Betsy DeVos has
accumulated purchased enormous power in this realm. And she fully intends to exert it.
[CC DeVos image by Michael Vadon | Flickr]