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Trump XI – Billionaire Charter Underwriter With No Public School Experience Now Secretary of Education…

November 23, 2016

Just when you thought the future of public education couldn’t be dimmer, President elect Trump turned out the lights with his nomination of billionaire charter proponent Betsy DeVos as his Department of Education head. Here’s a matter-of-fact description from NPR’s Eric Westervelt of Ms. DeVos’ “credentials” to serve as Secretary of of Education:

President-elect Donald Trump has picked billionaire Betsy DeVos, (is) a Michigan Republican activist and philanthropist who is a strong supporter of school choice but has little experience with public education, as his secretary of education.

DeVos, 58, is a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and helped push a failed 2000 ballot proposal to amend the Michigan state Constitution to create a voucher system for students to attend nonpublic schools.

DeVos is chairman of The Windquest Group, a Michigan-based investment management company. She is married to billionaire Richard DeVos Jr., the son of Richard DeVos, who co-founded the home care products company Amway.

Trump, in a statement, called DeVos “a brilliant and passionate education advocate.” He added that she would have the leadership ability to “break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back.”

It’s unclear to me whether Ms. DeVos is a billionaire in her own right or if she married an individual who is a billionaire… but that appears to be her pre-eminent qualification for this assignment. Ever the fair and balanced news agency, NPR goes on to report that:

…her appointment signals that Trump intends to make school choice and a voucher plan for low-income families a centerpiece of his education agenda.

School choice plans are controversial because in some cases they can allow families to use public funding for private schools. Critics say choice plans are often underregulated and can amount to profiteering.

As one of those critics who say bad things about deregulated for-profit charters, I know of no instances where for profit charters expressed a desire to adhere to regulations that are imposed on so-called “government schools”… pesky regulations like annual audits, health inspections of facilities, credentialing and background checks of employees assigned to work with children, and keeping track of insignificant data like drop out rates, attendance rates, suspensions, and so on. Based on the NPR report, Ms. DeVos seems to hew to the party line for charter operators:

DeVos has helped make Michigan’s charter schools among the least regulated in the nation. Some 80 percent of the state’s charters are run by private companies.

Any hope of any reforms that might lead to more funding for public education went out the window on November 8, and any hope of any relief from the privatization that plagues public education was lost well before that when the race boiled down to Mr. Trump against Ms. Clinton, who was fully on board with the direction “reformers” were taking public education during the Bush and, yes, the Obama administrations.

Here’s the saddest part of this story: digging out of this huge hole dug for public education over two decades will require a heroic effort. I hope a 2020 presidential candidate emerges in the near future to help lead the way.

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