The Senate confirmation hearing of education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos has been postponed until Jan. 17. This is for the best. DeVos is a controversial appointee who hasn’t even completed her ethics review, and there’s no need to fast-track her nomination.
As we’ve noted on this blog before, Americans United doesn’t believe DeVos is qualified for the nation’s top education slot. In America, 90 percent of children attend public schools, and it makes sense that those schools ought to be the nation’s top priority. Yet DeVos has no relevant experience in public education. In fact, she has shown nothing but hostility toward that system and has worked most of her adult life on schemes to divert taxpayer money into the coffers of private (mostly religious) schools by championing vouchers.
Far-right ideology drives DeVos’ crusade. She’s heedless to the will of the people. In her home state of Michigan, voters rejected a voucher scheme by a more than 2-1 margin in 2000. Unfazed, DeVos just moved on to other states. (An Americans United-led coalition, the National Coalition for Public Education, explained why DeVos’ support for vouchers is so problematic in a Jan. 9 letter to senators who serve on the Health, Education. Labor and Pensions Committee. We hope every one of them reads it.)
Betsy DeVos should be questioned aggressively about her plan to divert tax money from public schools into voucher plans.
A Jan. 9 New York Times story painted a disturbing picture of DeVos. Reporter Noam Scheiber observed, “More than anyone else who has joined the incoming Trump administration, she represents the combination of wealth, free-market ideology and political hardball associated with a better-known family of billionaires: Charles and David Koch.”
The Times noted that for DeVos and her husband Dick, politics is a blood sport. A conservative Republican seeking a seat in Congress who ran afoul of the couple over some issues related to unions described the ads they ran against him as “deceitful, dishonest and cowardly.”
In 2016, DeVos and members of her extended family poured $14 million into political action committees to help elect certain candidates (including some of the very senators who vote on her appointment). DeVos has been a political powerhouse in Michigan for years and has become adept at arm-twisting. As one former Republican legislator put it, “I would never underestimate Betsy DeVos in a knife fight.”
Therein lies the problem. The nation doesn’t need a metaphorical knife fighter running education policy. We need someone who understands the promise of public education and its challenges. We need someone who is not afraid to think differently but who recognizes that certain approaches, like vouchers, have proven to be failures. We need someone who actually supports America’s public schools.
It was always going to be difficult to get a nominee like that from Trump, but it seems he was unwilling to get even halfway there. Instead, he put forth the most polarizing figure he could, someone who has little or no appreciation for the role public schools play in America.
DeVos is a divisive, highly partisan operative with no relevant educational experience. Senators should spend the next week taking a very close look at DeVos’ background – and should conclude that she’s not up to the task of being America’s education secretary.
If you agree, join with Americans United in urging senators to hold DeVos accountable for her pro-voucher record.
P.S. Americans United has a wealth of information about DeVos and other troubling Trump nominees on its website. Visit this special section to educate yourself about the threats these nominees pose to church-state separation – and take action to stop them.