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.
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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.