Secretary of Education pick Betsy DeVos is not an advocate for public education. President Donald Trump selected DeVos for his cabinet in late November. DeVos’ original hearing was set for January 11, but was postponed to the 17 because DeVos had not completed her ethics review on the original date.
The Secretary of Education heads the U.S. Department of Education, which is responsible for providing financial aid, collecting educational data, and identifying educational issues.
DeVos has been active in education politics for 28 years, mainly in her home state of Michigan. She is an active Republican donor. A longtime advocate of school vouchers and school choice, DeVos has very minimal experience with the American public school system. History teacher Michele Bollinger was disappointed by Trump’s nomination. “[DeVos] doesn’t see what’s valuable about [public schools]. She has never attended. She hasn’t sent her children.” Said Bollinger. “She’s not part of the public school community in any way, she is hostile to it.”
President Trump’s proposed student voucher plan requires $20 billion from the federal budget and a combined $110 billion from the state budgets. This system would take money from the budget of traditional public schools and redistribute it to private and charter schools. Since Wilson is a public school in a federal district, DeVos could be especially influential here. Devos’ website says, “Above all, I believe every child, no matter their zip code or their parents’ jobs, deserves access to a quality education.”
In her Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) confirmation hearing, DeVos repeatedly mentioned accountability. “Accountability means more testing. It also means firing people and closing schools based on test scores.” Bollinger said.
The Department of Education also plays a major role in administering student loans for college and graduate students. While student loans are helpful in allowing students to attend college and graduate school, student loan debt can be significant and take years to repay. In the HELP confirmation hearing, Senator Bernie Sanders asked DeVos about tuition-free colleges. DeVos called tuition-free colleges an “interesting idea” but then said “there’s nothing in life that’s truly free.” Many high school students across the country were drawn to Senator Sanders presidential campaign because tuition-free college was part of his platform.
It is hard to know how much DeVos will be able to accomplish, as her proposals are controversial in many parts of the country. In addition to school vouchers, she did not rule out guns in schools in her HELP hearing and said that she thinks states and school districts, not federal laws, should dictate whether schools have to accommodate students with disabilities. The Senate will vote on whether to confirm DeVos on January 31.
PHOTO BY TOM WILLIAMS VIA GETTY IMAGES