By Damali Ramirez’18
Betsy DeVos, a billionaire pro-school-choice advocate, was confirmed by the Senate as the nation’s Secretary of Education. Vice President Mike Pence broke the 50-50 tie on February 7, which is the first time a vice president was summoned to break a tie on a cabinet nomination. This position decides how $40 trillion in college funding is distributed, as well as federal funding towards preK-12 education. DeVos was one of Donald Trump’s most controversial cabinet nominees. She has no teaching experience and no experience in running a state or district education department. But how did someone who’s unqualified for this position get elected in the first place? Was it the $200 million she donated to fund the Republican party, including 10 of the 12 Republican senators? Or was it her anti-traditional schools viewpoint?
Ms. DeVos has never attended a public school let alone sent her children or grandchildren to one. The nation’s Secretary of Education should understand how the public education system works in order to know what improvements can be made. She has stated her dislike towards public education during an interview in which she called public education a “dead end”. According to the HuffPost, “The U.S. Department of Education projects that in 2021, private schools will enroll about 9 percent of preK-12 students, while public schools will enroll 91 percent”. DeVos hasn’t demonstrated any leadership or presented new ideas that will improve the system in which 91 percent of students will attend in the future.
It is clear DeVos is biased towards private, religious, and charter schools for she has donated millions of dollars to these schools only. Her pro-school-choice advocacy according to the New York Times, “helped direct, groups that want to replace traditional public schools with charter schools and convert taxpayer dollars into vouchers to help parents send children to private and religious schools”. Parents get a voucher for a specific amount of money that can be used for the school of their choice. The problem is that most private schools cost way more than the voucher will cover so it doesn’t really allow low income families to put their children in fancy private schools. The concept of choice is a fallacy except for the wealthy who would pay for private schools anyway. She wants to install a $20 billion voucher that will be aimed towards low-income families. The voucher system hurts public education because it eliminates resources, such as federal funding and takes away their talented students.
The Washington Post also stated: “DeVos and other family members have given more than $2 million to the PAC [Political Action Committee] since 2001. GLEP [Great Lakes Education Project] has spent that money essentially buying policy outcomes that have helped Michigan’s charter industry grow while shielding it from accountability.” She has demonstrated numerous times she prefers charter schools over public and plans on building more as Secretary of Education.
Charter schools are private schools that receive federal funding from the government. Unlike public schools, charter schools can select their students. These schools often refuse students with special needs, behavior problems, social problems, etc. According to the Washington Post, charter schools admissions have lengthy applications, student and parent essays, report cards, test scores, disciplinary records, teacher recommendations, and medical records. They also ask for Social Security cards, birth certificates, mandatory family interviews, and assessment exams. Meaning they accept only talented students that will benefit the school and cause minimum conflicts. Charter schools also threaten public schools because they reduce the money public schools receive from the government.
In her home state of Michigan, Ms.DeVos began to spread for-profit charter schools. Meaning these schools can academically be failing, but as long as the school yields money their doors can remain open. According Valerie Strauss’s article in the Washington Post, Michigan has the lowest test scores in reading and math across the nation. Detroit contains 79 percent of these failing charter schools and the majority of the students come from lower income families. It is unfair to the students in Detroit that their quality of education is judged by money.
However, not all charter schools are necessarily bad and/or failing. Research has shown that charter schools tend to score higher on exams than traditional public schools. Data-First.org revealed, “On average, nationally, students in 17 percent of charter schools performed significantly better than if they had attended their neighborhood traditional public school.” Also, students in charter high schools score higher on college entrance exams such as the SAT or ACT. In addition, they are more likely to graduate high school and attend college than students in traditional public schools.
In Michigan, the charter schools that are succeeding hold a student population that is mostly white upper income families. Even if lower income families can afford to send their child to these schools, the travel distance tends to be far. It is unfair that these schools can simply choose non-problematic students and avoid the needs of other students. This is the reason why their test scores tend to be higher than public schools. The Boston Globe said, “Charters may boost test scores, but they don’t help students get better jobs or earn higher incomes.”
Ms. DeVos should’ve never been elected for this position. America saw how unqualified and unprepared she was during the confirmation hearing. She lacks government experience and wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t a multi-billionaire using her influence.