Opinion: Clueless Betsy DeVos has defender-in-chief in Bill Schuette

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is recovering from a disastrous recent performance on “60 Minutes.”

August 2018 update: Bill Schuette wins Republican nod for Michigan governor

Betsy DeVos’ stunning lack of knowledge about public education was on full display in her recent interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” The rest of the country now knows what we in Michigan have understood for a long time — DeVos has no idea what is going on in public schools and possesses no curiosity to find out.

According to CNN, “White House officials were alarmed by DeVos’ struggle to answer basic questions about the nation’s schools.” Coming from this administration, that’s saying a lot.

Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association, a 140,000-member teachers union.

On the other hand, Republican Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who’s running for governor after decades of financial support from the DeVos family, strongly defended DeVos. In a tweet, he said, “Betsy DeVos is a smart and gifted leader in education. Her critics simply do not want any change in the status quo.”

Here’s the problem: when you’re the secretary of education, you ARE the status quo. DeVos’s policies have been a disaster for Michigan schools for the past decade, and Schuette only seems capable of defending their failures.


When asked if she had visited any underperforming schools, DeVos said she had not done so “intentionally…but maybe I should.”

Yes, Secretary DeVos, maybe you should – and take Schuette along. You could start with several of the poor-performing for-profit charters you are responsible for creating in mostly high-poverty areas.

DeVos could not mount a coherent defense of her long-held proposition that public schools can improve performance when education funding is diverted to for-profit charters and private school vouchers. That’s because there is absolutely no evidence to support that theory.

If her real goal (as many suspect) was to help private sector companies make huge profits from taxpayer dollars, then she gets an “A.” Michigan now spends over $1 billion every year to fund for-profit charters, taken from monies for our neighborhood schools. The vast majority of these charter schools perform at or below traditional public schools—with 70 percent ranking in the bottom half of Michigan schools.

When asked by CBS’ Lesley Stahl if charter schools made public schools in Michigan better, DeVos responded, “I don’t know.” We do. The record is clear: overall, public school academic performance has declined as a result of the tremendous loss of funding to classrooms across the state.

DeVos’ only experience in education is as a donor willing to fund politicians who advocate for low-performing for-profit charters. The DeVos family has donated millions to Republican candidates and conservative PACs. DeVos-defender-in-chief Schuette has received $122,800 from the DeVoses since 2010, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Campaign contributions to Michigan legislators cleared the way to passage of one of DeVos’ major agenda items: lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed to open, which released the floodgates of tax dollars leaving traditional public schools.

The result: All Michigan students have been harmed – not just those attending sub-standard corporate-run charters, but also the 90 percent of Michigan students attending traditional public schools.

For that record of failure (and her families’ campaign contributions), DeVos was rewarded with a cabinet position in the Trump administration. As education secretary, she is now advocating a $20 billion federal investment in for-profit charters and private school vouchers across the country.

If DeVos “succeeds,” she will achieve the same results for all American students and schools as she has done for our schools. And if Schuette wins the governor’s race, she’ll have a willing accomplice here at home.

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Thu, 03/29/2018 - 7:59am

The anti choice crowd loves to throw around the FOR PROFIT moniker when ever mentioning charter schools. But many charitable organizations which never will or intend to make profits register themselves this way. This is just more MEA propaganda but maybe the teacher union crowd is too uniformed to know this? What evidence do you have that any charter schools make these "profits" you castigate them for? While greed, how on the subject of greed how much do the MEA chiefs make?

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 9:24am

Evidence that for-profits make a profit: not only have they persisted, they pushed for the ability to open more. But the profit/nonprofit dichotomy is a red herring.
If one looks at student performance (not school performance which is skewed by the relative affluence of the student body), students in charter schools most often underperform comparable students (in socioeconomic terms) in the nearby non-charter public schools. Bridge data support this.
Since Michigan adopted school choice, our students have gone from leading the country to trailing it, from top 5 to bottom 5. We see the results of school "market competition"; it is the opposite of what some theorists and ideologues projected.
The solution is not simply more funding but more funding intelligently applied to address weaknesses and pursue strengths.

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 9:40am

And a 2016 analysis by the Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan education policy and research organization, found that 70 percent of Michigan charters were in the bottom half of the state’s rankings. Michigan has the most for-profit charter schools in the country and some of the least state oversight. Even staunch charter advocates have blanched at the Michigan model.

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 9:44am

Matt, there are indeed religious groups and other charter sponsors which do not profit, but there are many for profit companies which sponsor and profit from chattering schools in Michigan. That's just a fact which you can verify, and it is really not worth debating. In fact rules to allow companies to profit from education funding in Michigan is most grossly manifested by the online providers who have received a foundation allowance equal to that of a public or charter school. These online "schools" often provide some canned content and are required to have some minimal and periodic content with the students who they enroll. The success rates of students in these programs is almost nil, and th State does nothing about that. These online education companies have, with the help of the DeVos family and the state legislators they have purchased, found a way to enrich themselves without delivering value to the students. This takes funding which was designated for public education by Prop A away from public schools. It is a perversion of the voters choice. Often in recent years legislation harmful to public schools passes narrowly, usually along party lines, closely followed by donations to the campaign funds of legislators who have voted as the DeVos family wishes. This is pretty easy to fact check.

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 9:58am

Still in effect and not amended or repealed (except ignored by the Republicans:


§ 2 Free public elementary and secondary schools; discrimination.
Sec. 2.

The legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law. Every school district shall provide for the education of its pupils without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin.

No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school. No payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly, to support the attendance of any student or the employment of any person at any such nonpublic school or at any location or institution where instruction is offered in whole or in part to such nonpublic school students. The legislature may provide for the transportation of students to and from any school.

History: Const. 1963, Art. VIII, § 2, Eff. Jan. 1, 1964 ;-- Am. Initiated Law, approved Nov. 3, 1970, Eff. Dec. 19, 1970
Constitutionality: That portion of second sentence of second paragraph of this section, prohibiting use of public money to support attendance of any student or employment of any person at any location or institution where instruction is offered in whole or in part to nonpublic students, was held unconstitutional, void, and unenforceable because it contravened free exercise of religion guaranteed by the United States Constitution and was violative of equal protection of laws provisions of United States Constitution. Traverse City School District v Attorney General, 384 Mich 390; 185 NW2d 9 (1971).
Former Constitution: See Const. 1908, Art. XI, § 9.

© 2017 Legislative Council, State of Michigan

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 7:28pm

If it's so easy to verify your and all the other specious charges, let's see it! The existence of charter schools doesn't prove their profitability, (unless you went to public schools or are a member of the MEA). Private schools charging way more than the state foundation grant can't stay open without additional funding sources so the trope of charters generating big profits is MEA spew. Yes this is a red herring but it is 100% yours! And your side continues to wave it about. We do not know the kids, parents, histories or circumstances of those choosing charter over public schools and i seriously doubt the MEA president does.

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 9:44am

For-profit charter schools and, even worse, for-profit online schools are simply stealing money from our students and people like you defend them. Shame on you!

Mary Fox
Thu, 03/29/2018 - 9:54am

Right wingers like to throw around the word "CHOICE" when the real word should be "SCAM."

Mike in Michigan
Thu, 03/29/2018 - 8:51am

I hope no one expected unbiased opinions on school choice and charter schools from the president of the MEA. DeVos aside, the MEA cares about union dues not childrens' and parents' options.

Disgruntled Taxpayer
Thu, 03/29/2018 - 11:15pm

Amen, Brother. I am not going to defend Michigan's charter schools, but this article isn't about righteous indignation, it's about deflection. Far more of our state's education dollars are wasted on the MEA than on charter schools, for-profit or otherwise. Thanks to the MEA's in-house MESSA insurance, which is very similar to a good BCBS community plan but upwards of 50% more expensive, egregious amounts of Michigan's education funds are doing nothing but lining the pockets of MEA and MEA-related officials. If only more of our teachers actually cared about those dollars going to their classrooms instead of into the coffers of their union heads. The biggest obstacle to righting public education in Michigan is the MEA.

Jamie Buchanan
Sat, 03/31/2018 - 8:55pm

That's an absolute lie that MESSA insurance costs 50% more. There is also a hard cap on the amount that districts can spend on insurance. If teachers choose better insurance coverage, they are paying the difference.

Dan Quisenberry
Thu, 03/29/2018 - 9:35am

Ms. Herbart obviously knows that all teachers rely on the facts, and all teachers know that data drives quality student outcomes. Despite the inaccuracies in this piece, the data in Michigan shows that charter school students are succeeding. M-STEP, NWEA, NAEP, studies by Stanford University and the University of Michigan, analysis by bipartisan think tanks all agree – charter schools ARE succeeding in providing meaningful student success.

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 7:15pm

Who does Quisenbarry work for? Devos?

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 7:45am

Dan Quisenberry should have clearly identified himself as an agent of a charter school lobbying group. The fact that he did not do that here speaks volumes regarding his credibility.

Sharron Solomon
Thu, 03/29/2018 - 10:24am

I see a greater detriment to urban communities in Michigan because charter school proliferation is concentrated in urban areas. If there was a proliferation in suburban areas, Detroiter, and other urban communities would have more support in fighting against them.

carl ver beek
Thu, 03/29/2018 - 10:27am

This is not an objective report.

It blames public school failure on the charter schools when there are many reasons for the failure.

Whether Betsy did or did not do well on 60 minutes is not the point.

Paul Jordan
Fri, 03/30/2018 - 7:47am

On the contrary, Betsy DeVos' ignorance speaks volumes. It demonstrates that she--and the Republican-led Michigan legislature--have an approach to education that is based upon faith (in their own notions) and not knowledge.

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 10:41am

I find it interesting that in general, people who call themselves "conservatives" have no objection to taxpayer money going to fund charter schools, which still have very little oversight by taxpayers. Many of the incidents of fiscal irresponsibility we've seen in recent years, particularly lack of adequate monitoring of funds, have involved charter schools.

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 7:41pm

What's even more interesting is how the MEA/NEA and rest of the Left with all their supposed concern for the poor so insists on continued school segregation by Zip Code, the last most significant vestige of racism out there.

Chris Matheson
Mon, 04/02/2018 - 3:27pm

Tony, there are numerous examples of fiscal mismanagement by employees/leaders of traditional public school districts. One egregious case that springs to mind is the construction of the Oakland ISD administration building under a former superintendent.

Joe Doaks
Thu, 03/29/2018 - 11:32am

Clueless is the MEA; students aren't advancing in basic requirements and many (far too many) are ill prepared for jobs, let alone higher education, upon graduation. In the private working world, we are measured by our output (whatever it may be). In too many school districts in our State, the teachers (AND ADMINISTRATORS) output is failing. Together, you blame everyone/everything but yourselves. No more excuses; no more misdirection. Own the problem(s); fix the problem(s).

Paul Jordan
Fri, 03/30/2018 - 7:51am

Our current situation is due to 25 years of 'reform' by right wing radical enemies of government-provided K-12 education. Some of us are old enough to remember when public education was determined by parent-elected school boards, local teachers who were ultimately answerable to those elected school boards, and a state board of education that was also elected by the people. We need to return to that system if we hope to see the same level of success.

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 10:27am

Amen Paul.

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 3:32pm

Perhaps if the name of the organization were changed to "Michigan Teachers and Students Mutual Admiration Society" Ms. Herbart might have some credibility commenting on public education policy. Trouble is, her responsibility - and she'd better not forget it because the membership won't - is first, foremost and always what benefits that membership. Stray too far from that mission and she'll find her tenure as the president of the MEA referred too in the paste tense.

Of course Ms. Herbart does have an especially tough job as president of the MEA. She has to try to maintain the status quo, which is to say the school district model of governance, while not looking too intransigent with regard to change. Worse, that's how the public education establishment got into this pickle.

The MEA stonewalled vouchers - twice - which carries a risk of its own. Look too much like you're against any change and you'll kick off a backlash. Charters were the compromise being seen as less dangerous than vouchers.

But what Ms. Herbart and her predecessors necessarily had to overlook was that there was a great deal of anger with the public education establishment and it wasn't going away. Quite the opposite.

That's the central fact in the face of which Ms. Herbart and the entire public education establishment is helpless. Public anger.

That anger shows up best where the schools are worst like Detroit. Even with the rolling-in of the EAA the DPSCD still enrolls less than half the kids who live within the district. The bulk of those kids, about 40%, go to charter schools. The rest to schools of choice.

As for Ms. Herbart's views on Betsy DeVos, they're a hoot.

Betsy DeVos is so politically brilliant that she got her policies enacted into law their "disastrous" nature being a function of Ms. Herbart being on the losing side of that engagement. Simultaneously, Ms. DeVos is also dumb as a post because she didn't do well against a seasoned "gotcha" journalist from "60 Minutes".

I'd ask Ms. Herbart to clarify that apparent contradiction but really don't have too. Betsy DeVos has gotten her policies enacted into law and Ms. Herbart hasn't been able to stop her. The question of who's smart and who isn't is thus neatly resolved.

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 5:18pm

Allen: Betsy's successes (and Ms. Herbart's inability to "stop" them) have NOTHING to do with "political brilliance" or "smarts" - and you know it! It has EVERYTHING to do with the DeVos family millions, and the fact that Ms. Herbart does not have those same millions to throw into the game to oppose her - and you know that, too! Stop being so disingenuous!

John Q. Public
Thu, 03/29/2018 - 8:08pm

Getting policies enacted in Michigan has nothing to do with whether one is smart. Our parliament of whores doesn't care if legislation is intelligent; only if you're willing to pay.

It's the statutory version of "Those who have the gold, make the rules."

Katherine Johnson
Thu, 03/29/2018 - 3:58pm

I would think that teachers in Michigan would be embarrassed to have someone as ill-informed as Paula Harbert representing them. She either doesn't care about the facts or just chooses to ignore them. She wants to ban school choice and force all students to attend her union-staffed schools. I understand; that's her job. She cares nothing about students. She only cares about unions.
She's laughably ill-informed or simply chooses to lie when it comes to charter school success. As a charter school parent, I did a little research and here's what I found:
- Charter schools in Detroit are twice as proficient as traditional public schools in reading and math. SOURCE: https://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/columnists/nolan-finley/2017/1...
- Charter school students in Michigan gain an additional two months of learning every year, compared to traditional public school students. SOURCE: https://credo.stanford.edu/pdfs/MI_report_2012_FINAL_1_11_2013_no_waterm...
- Students in an NHA charter school (like my son) gain several months of additional learning every year. SOURCE: https://thelivingstonpost.com/stanford-study-students-in-nha-charter-sch...
I'm a charter school parent who's glad I got to choose my child's school. He's doing well there. I'm glad that it was me, and not you, who got to decide which school he attends.

Sat, 03/31/2018 - 1:28pm

It's not about banning choice. It's about not siphoning money intended for public schools into Charter schools. You can choose to send your kid to any school you want, but if you choose anything other than a public school, you should be willing to pay for that choice.

Charter schools are basically a hybrid of private schools and public schools. You want something off the "specialized" menu? Pay for it. Stop stealing money from the public schools. Invest in them so they can improve.

Have you even met Paula? I have. She puts students and teachers first every day.

Chris Matheson
Mon, 04/02/2018 - 2:58pm

Why the assumption that the money belongs to the traditional public school district in which the student resides? If the money belongs to the district in which a student happens to reside, can we expect you to also begin attacking those traditional public schools benefitting from the enrollment of students out of district exercising school-of-choice options throughout our state? This would be consistent with your logic, yet I don't hear this argument from those attacking public charter schools. Funding is directly tied to the student and the only entity entitled to this funding is the traditional public school or the public charter school the student chooses to attend.

Paul Jordan
Fri, 03/30/2018 - 7:41am

Does anyone know if Betsy DeVos and/or her family have investments in for-profit charter schools?

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 8:13am

The MEA has been involved in MI education for decades and yet we have what’s becoming one of the worst education systems in the US. They are a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, which serves no real interest besides their own economic one.

Paula is an intellectual lightweight, as is apparent in her article.

Chuck Jordan
Sat, 03/31/2018 - 10:51am

Nothing I've read in the Bridge so clearly shows why no progress will be made in improving Michigan schools. All public schools are not alike. All charter schools are not alike. How about we figure out how to make both systems work better. How can we have choice and not deplete the funds needed for high poverty school districts? No, not all public schools are harmed be charter schools and choice. How can we ensure that charter schools are not used to make someone more money. No, it is not true of most charter schools. How can we make sure that students are able to learn no matter where they go to school (if they want to).