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Betsy DeVos could spell doom for America’s public schools

Betsy DeVos
(Photo courtesy of Howard University)

In honor of Betsy DeVos becoming Education Secretary, here’s a problem for the math majors: If you have $200 million and need 51 votes in the Senate to get a job you aren’t qualified for, how much money will you have to give each senator to buy their vote?

I the case of Betsy DeVos, she could only get 50 votes. That’s why Vice President Mike Pence had to make history and be the magical 51st vote to get DeVos over the threshold. Never before has a vice president been a tie-breaking vote for a cabinet nominee. DeVos was simply that god-awful.

The controversy surrounding the confirmation of DeVos is not without merit. During a contentious hearing, the billionaire political donor showed herself to be utterly incompetent of the position she was seeking. She didn’t know about the existence of federal civil rights laws that protect students with disabilities. She didn’t know the difference between the measures of proficiency vs. growth. She thought teachers should have guns in the classroom to protect against grizzly bear attacks. She couldn’t promise that public school funds would not be diverted to private and charter schools. She greatly inflated the rate of student loan debt by almost ten-fold. What Mrs. DeVos lacked in knowledge, she didn’t make up for in experience.

Betsy DeVos never attended public school. Her children did not attend public school. She has never taught in a public school, nor has she ever been on a governing board or sat on a PTA board. What DeVos has done is mount a tireless campaign to redirect public school money into private and charter schools. She called for the abolition of the Detroit public school system, and her long-term activism has ranked Michigan at the bottom of the barrel for charter school systems. Her work in Michigan was so shoddy that fellow charter advocate Tom Watkins said, “People are making a boatload of money, and the kids aren’t getting educated.” Guess who was making the money?

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Betsy DeVos
(Twitter screenshot from @gidglick)

So with all this going against her, one might be wondering why on earth would the Senate vote to confirm this ill-equipped ideologue? As the old saying goes, money talks. Mrs. DeVos and her husband, Dick, are multi-billionaires, and they are what we like to refer to as mega donors. Since the 1970s, they have given over $200 million to various Republican campaigns and causes. DeVos personally gave $818,000 to 20 current Republican senators, all of whom voted in favor of her confirmation. Florida Senator Marco Rubio was the biggest recipient. As Bernie Sanders pointed out, DeVos would not have been considered for the position had she not bought her way to the table.

And if you don’t think DeVos bought her way to the table, hear her in her own words: “I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party … I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.”

Betsy DeVos and her family doled out hundreds of thousands to members of the GOP in the Senate. During her confirmation battle, over 5 million Americans, Republican and Democrat, Trump supporting and not, called their senators to demand they vote no. That’s not even taking into consideration emails and letters sent. Her confirmation set records for the amount of constituent outreach, but it was to no avail The Senate Republicans (minus Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski) put money and special interests over their constituents.

President Trump promised to drain the swamp. Instead, he appointed a billionaire mega-donor with no public school experience to the most crucial educational position in America.

If the success of her charter schools in Michigan is any reflection of what her record in the Education Department will be, America’s kids are screwed. Countless neighborhoods and rural communities will suffer greatly, and we will be pushed further down the list in proficiency.

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