Billionaire philanthropist and former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, Betsy DeVos, has been nominated by Donald Trump for Secretary of Education. DeVos is a staunch advocate for school choice, showing that Trump intends to uphold his controversial $20 billion school voucher plan from his presidential campaign.
School choice by means of a voucher plan is intended to allow parents to select alternate education institutions for their children and redirect those funds away from public schools, sometimes to for profit institutions with very little regulation.
According to the National Education Association (NEA), vouchers for school choice are not a solution to the multi-faceted issues that students and parents face today. The NEA points out that there are educational, social, legal, and political ramifications of a voucher system, stating that “a pure voucher system would only encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification in our society.”
President Lily Eskelsen García of the NEA says that DeVos “has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education.”
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) also commented on DeVos’ nomination, decrying her as “everything Donald Trump said is wrong in America—an ultra-wealthy heiress who uses her money to game the system and push a special-interest agenda that is opposed by the majority of voters. Installing her in the Department of Education is the opposite of Trump’s promise to drain the swamp.”
DeVos’ work on the boards of Children First America and the American Education Reform Council, both education-based charities, primarily focused on pushing educational choice with vouchers.
DeVos and her family also have a history of supporting anti-LGBTQ organizations. They have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations that believe in “conversion therapy”; they are major supporters of Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group whose founder called the battle against LGBT rights a “second civil war.”
Her husband, Dick DeVos, is the heir of Amway, a company that has been scrutinized for its “pyramid scheme” tactics, using distributors solely to rake in other new distributors, rather than to actually sell products to outside customers.
In the past, education secretaries have had extensive backgrounds in education. Betsy DeVos has no direct experience in education. Her philanthropic work has simply, at times, been involved in education.
“By nominating Betsy DeVos,” continued Garcia, “the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities.”