While the Trump scandal-tsunami continues to flood Washington, his corrupt administration continues to dismantle our agencies and institutions. Almost every federal agency is now headed by a partisan hack openly hostile to the mission of that agency. And this is especially true of the Department of Education, headed by Betsy DeVos, a religious extremist openly disdainful of public schools and a big supporter of for-profit schools and charter schools. She fits perfectly in today’s Republican party, whose only mission is to support and foster the greed of corporations to extract more and more money from working Americans and funnel it upward to already-wealthy corporate executives.
DeVos comes from a billionaire family. Her husband is the heir to the Amway fortune and her brother runs Blackwater, a notorious mercenary security company who can accurately be described as a merchant of death. Her family is the personification of corporatism and nepotism, so it’s no wonder DeVos supports a model of education that looks to make investors rich off of students.
But much more distressing is her religious extremism. DeVos has stated in the past that her mission is to bring God into the classroom–her version of God, of course. And that’s why she is such a critic of public education and a proponent of charter schools. Charter schools are private schools that get public money, so they don’t have to follow many of the rules that public schools adhere to. They don’t have to care about diversity, they don’t have to reflect their community, and they don’t have to justify who they let in. Using the charter school model, people like DeVos can send their kids to a school with a lot of white faces, all funded with public money. And increasingly, charter schools are being run by religious organizations. They are still prohibited from teaching religion, but the lines are being constantly eroded, and with DeVos at the helm of the DOE, it’s easy to imagine these rules not being enforced.
DeVos is also a fierce critic of federal education policy and big proponent of the local administration of school policy. She wants local school districts to determine what is taught and how it is taught. And this has been the Republican mantra for years. Allow small pockets of ignorance and bigotry to flourish outside the reach of the federal government. How else can a southern state teach students that the Civil War was not about slavery? How else can radical right-wingers ensure that large numbers of students never learn about the civil rights movement or Watergate? By championing local control–when it suits her purposes–DeVos can avoid high standards and re-write history.
But DeVos also wants to override local control when it suits her purposes. She recently said on a visit to Tennessee that if a local government rejects a charter school application, the state government should be able to over-rule it. SO her stance that government is bad and local control is good is not a principle but an opportunistic political strategy. If charter schools could only succeed with the help of the federal government, you can bet DeVos would be urging a strong federal hand in charter schools. That’s how craven DeVos and the Republicans have become under Trump.
Education is critically important in New York State, and funding for education is also a hotly contested issue. It’s in this area where DeVos could have the greatest negative impact in our state. The Trump budget wants to remove $7 billion in funding from the Department of Education, including eliminating funding for the Special Olympics. And while the House and Senate will likely dictate the broad outlines of the budget that eventually goes to the President, Trump could play hardball and insist on certain cuts in order to avoid a veto.
DeVos has already made it harder for student loan borrowers to have meaningful recourse when they become the victims of fraud by for-profit schools, protecting the investor class while the borrowers get screwed. But in the Trump budget she also wants to reduce programs that forgive student loans for public service workers. And she wants to eliminate subsidized loans for low-income borrowers. If cuts like these ever make it into the final budget, students in New York State would be hard hit.
Moreover, the DOE plays a critical role in shaping our national education policy, and if the Department continues to be dismantled and denuded from the inside by DeVos it will leave a gaping hold in our educational ecosystem. Equal access and equal opportunity used to be the ideals that the DOE worked toward, but now it seems that the goal under DeVos is to promote charter schools and privatize as much of the rest of the education system as possible–not for the sake of improving education but to make it easier for wealthy white families to send their children to schools that are not diverse and to make it harder for middle-class and low-income students to get an education without becoming chained to a lifetime of loan payments to greedy lenders.
Unlike almost every Secretary of Education before her, Betsy DeVos is hostile to the bedrock American institution of public education. She works actively to undermine it and privatize it, all for the sake of corporate greed. It might better be called the Department of Privatization. In the short run, it’s the students who suffer. But in the long run, we all suffer. Public education serves as a common reference point for so many Americans, but as the standards go down and more “alternatives” are promoted–like charter schools and voucher programs and home schooling–our culture fragments. Our citizens fail to learn history, they stop respecting science, and they leave school unprepared for the challenges of the future, whether in commerce or politics or elsewhere. And that’s just not acceptable. The DeVos agenda deserves our constant scorn and resistance. And in 2020 we will have a chance to reject it, along with all of the other malignant priorities of the Trump regime. Keep working to “vote his ass out of office”…