President-elect Donald Trump has tapped for U.S. Education Secretary "a 'reformer' who does not hide her contempt for the public schools," according to historian Diane Ravitch.
Of conservative billionaire Betsy DeVos, a longtime supporter of charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García said, "her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students."
"In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding, and destroying public education in America."
—Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers
"She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers—which take away funding and local control from our public schools—to fund private schools at taxpayers' expense," García continued. "These schemes do nothing to help our most-vulnerable students while they ignore or exacerbate glaring opportunity gaps. She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize, and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education. By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators, and communities."
Similarly, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten called DeVos "the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education."
"In nominating DeVos," Weingarten said, "Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding, and destroying public education in America."
Indeed, Chalkbeat earlier this week listed "a few things we could reasonably surmise from a DeVos pick." Among them was that Trump is now likely to go through with his plan "to use federal funds to encourage states to make school choice available to all poor students, including through vouchers that allow families to take public funding to private schools."
"That's exactly what DeVos has zealously worked to make happen on a state-by-state basis for decades," the outlet wrote. "In 2000, she helped get a ballot measure before Michigan voters that would have enshrined a right to vouchers in the state's Constitution. After the measure failed, she and her husband formed a political action committee to support pro-voucher candidates nationally. Less than a decade later, the group counted a 121-60 win-loss record."
Wealthy DeVos—who served as head of the Michigan Republican Party from 1996 to 2000 and again from 2003 to 2005—is "a Michigan power broker and major donor to the GOP and its candidates around the country," the Washington Post reports. She leads the American Federation for Children, described by teacher and education commentator Peter Greene as "a dark money group that works [for] school privatization," and is married to Dick DeVos, an heir to the Amway fortune.
"The DeVos family has been using their deep pockets to influence the Michigan legislature for years and it looks like they have finally bought their way into a presidential administration as well," Progress Michigan said in a statement. "The DeVos family education plan has been a disaster for Michigan and we are truly saddened that Trump decided to import their failed ideas to Washington, D.C."
Meanwhile, the Post adds, DeVos' brother "is Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, one of the most profitable private security firms during the Iraq War."
As Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, wrote at The Intercept just last week:
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The Prince and DeVos families gave the seed money for what came to be known as the Republican Revolution when Newt Gingrich became House speaker in 1994 on a far-right platform known as the Contract with America. The Prince and DeVos clans also invested heavily in a scheme developed by [Focus on the Family's James] Dobson to engage in back-door lobbying activities by forming "prayer warrior" networks of people who would call politicians to advocate for Dobson's religious and political agenda. Instead of lobbying, which the organization would have been prohibited from doing because of its tax and legal status, they would claim they were "praying" for particular policies.
The Princes consistently poured money into criminalizing abortion, privatizing education, blocking gay rights, and other right-wing causes centered around their interpretation of Christianity. The family, especially Erik, was very close to Richard Nixon's "hatchet man," Watergate conspirator Charles "Chuck" Colson. The author of Nixon's enemies list, Colson was the first person sentenced in the Watergate scandal, after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in the investigation of the dirty tricks campaign against Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War. Colson became a born-again Christian before going to prison, and after his release, he started the Prison Fellowship, which sought to convert prisoners to Christianity to counter what Colson saw as the Islamic menace in U.S. prisons. Erik Prince funded this as well and went on prison visits with Colson.
With all this in mind, journalists and public education advocates blasted Trump's latest Cabinet appointment on Twitter:
Billionaire fundraiser who never spent a day in a classroom. That's Betsy DeVos. What a revolting choice. Latest in a slew. https://t.co/ZS4lG6il4o
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) November 23, 2016
— Jeff Guo (@_jeffguo) November 23, 2016
Our next US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos (and her children), have never attended public school.
— Adam Smith (@AdamSmith_usa) November 23, 2016
Betsy DeVos, a huge advocate for school privatization, admitting her family buys influence with campaign donations pic.twitter.com/d8nqiT0qcK
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) November 23, 2016
Trump's picked huge Koch donor club member, billionaire Amway heiress Betsy Devos, as Education Sec. Drain the swamp?
— Jane Mayer (@JaneMayerNYer) November 23, 2016
Here we go-a true enemy of public education. https://t.co/gi1mIOF2aB
— Kathy Werner (@lifeliner2) November 23, 2016
— Nada Djordjevich G&A (@NadaDjordjev) November 23, 2016