The nomination of Betsy DeVos to the Department of Education as Education Secretary in the coming Trump administration is an affront to public education at all levels. DeVos has no public education experience, personally or professionally. She is a billionaire with a penchant for privatizing education for profit and funneling millions to conservative and religious causes, including political contributions to oppose same-sex-marriage laws. She’s also anti-union and omitted a $125,000 political donation from disclosures she submitted to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) prior to her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, January 17th, 2017. This gift may be a drop in the bucket to a billionaire, but on a rubric measuring integrity on a scale of emerging through to exemplary performance, she earns an F. Our students deserve better models.
Devos’s $125,000 donation to Protecting Michigan Taxpayers in 2012 was identified by American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super PAC. Jessica Mackler, president of American Bridge, told The Washington Post:
From top to bottom, the Trump transition team has been rushing through the nomination process and hiding information from the public, so it’s no surprise that Betsy DeVos has omitted a huge anti-union donation that targeted American workers and their right to organize.
This discovery is alarming for several reasons and foremost among them is the fact that about 50.4 million students attend public elementary and secondary schools and DeVos’s nomination poses a disruptive threat to their educational experience. Furthermore, “The Office of Government Ethics—which is responsible for vetting presidential nominees, and identifying and resolving potential conflicts of interest—has not yet completed its review of DeVos's background and finances.” An anti-union ideologue who pays to play is not the right choice for Secretary of Education.
The Center for American Progress (CAP) reveals more financial conflicts that amount to a “$4 million bid to buy DeVos a cabinet position.” With almost a quarter of a million dollars going to the members of the education committee who will vet her nomination, the integrity of the Republicans under Trump is also open to doubt. Additionally, the DeVoses gifted “$2.25 million last fall to the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).” CAP argues that in order to “uphold the ethical standards of the Senate—and avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest—senators who have received donations from DeVos and her family should recuse themselves from considering her nomination.”
Earlier indicators of Devos’s questionable integrity and extremism exist. In exclusive video obtained by Politico DeVos “compared her work in education reform to a biblical battleground where she wants to ‘advance God's Kingdom.’” Religious ideology has no place in our secular schools, and DeVos knows that privatizing education is the solution to fix the perceived deficit of religious displacement. As Politico reports, DeVos commented on how “... public education has ‘displaced’ the role of the church at the center of communities, and ... providing parents with school choice is one way to undo that displacement.” Let’s also name the elephant in the room: school choice is a euphemism for white flight (see “The Racist History of the Charter School Movement”). This is unacceptable and we have to fight her Senate confirmation.
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, argues: "… raiding the public treasury to subsidize private businesses and religious organizations runs against the public trust and the Constitution … and [Trump’s nomination] suggests he has little regard for . . . the constitutional principle of separation of church and state." This is problematic.
What signal does DeVos’s nomination send to public school graduates and parents of public school children? Does their experience and choice matter? DeVos’s potential Senate confirmation challenges the values of a significant swath of Americans and threatens to gut public schools in order to “advance God’s kingdom” and white privilege on private ground. Folks, don’t let her hijack our public schools. We have to fight exploitation on multiple fronts to preserve the diverse education for people of all faiths and identities without discrimination—implicit or explicit. American schools and school children cannot afford DeVos’s biased vision.