Betsy Devos' and the GOPs War on Education



Chaos is a game plan. By creating constant chaos,  you create confusion. By creating confusion, you create information fatigue. People become so exhausted from the constant barrage of increasingly disturbing news, that what was once completely unacceptable starts to feel normal. This is the plan, but it is only effective if we acquiesce.

Yesterday, two things happened that are worth our attention. Betsy DeVos, an Amway fortune heir who married another billionaire was confirmed by the US Senate (in a record breaking tied vote broken by VP Mike Pence) to run the Department of Education. Soon after a bill was presented on the House floor to terminate the US Department of Education. The one thing was so outrageous, so completely mind blowing, so over the top insane that the other thing got buried in the noise. They are both outrageous, mind blowing, and over the top. Betsy DeVos and the GOPs War on Education is shaping up to be one epic battle.

"I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return." Betsy DeVos 
Why is Betsy DeVos worthy of your intense scrutiny? She is part of a family who are long time billionaire donors to the Republican Party. She is now going to be in charge of the US Department of Education. She has a multi-pronged agenda, but her agenda is only part of the story. Let me break it down. But first, let's talk about the US Department of Education.
  • The US Department of Education does not run our nations K-12 schools. Each state is responsible for running their public schools. However the US Department of Education creates the overarching mission for public education nationwide.
  • There is a small amount of funding from the Federal government that supports programs in K-12 public schools. 92% of public school funding comes from the state and local governments.
  • The Federal role in education is seen "as a kind of "emergency response system," a means of filling gaps in State and local support for education when critical national needs arise." If you've ever lived in a school district that lacks significant state or local funding, you know why that emergency response system is needed. We lived in East Tennessee for several years, and the schools our daughter attended there were abysmal. There were some amazing teachers who went above and beyond, and they were often doing so at their own expense. Still the school was outrageously underfunded. Tennessee does not have income tax and the property taxes are very low. Depending on the area in which you live, the sales taxes may not generate enough income to support the schools. We came from some of the best schools in the country in one of the wealthiest school districts, so it was a real eye opener to disparity in public education. Ed.gov
  • The Mission of the US Department of Education "pursues its twin goals of access and excellence through the administration of programs that cover every area of education and range from preschool education through postdoctoral research." ED.gov  If the people living in a district are poor, the locally and state funded schools do not have the cash flow to support the schools and provide education that meets the Federal standards of excellence. If they don't meet the Federal standards they lose federal funding. When federal funds earmarked for these schools are diverted to private for profit schools through voucher programs, the public schools are unable to meet the federal standards. This is important, so remember it later.
  • "The Secretary and the Department play a leadership role in the ongoing national dialogue over how to improve the results of our education system for all students. This involves such activities as raising national and community awareness of the education challenges confronting the Nation, disseminating the latest discoveries on what works in teaching and learning, and helping communities work out solutions to difficult educational issues." ED.gov
  • The US Department of Education also oversees Universities, student loans, and student grants. They are in charge of Grants, Loans, and FAFSA. ED.gov
  • The USED is responsible for accreditation of Universities and Higher Education. Note: Without this oversight, fake universities (like Trump University) can operate without accreditation or impunity. ED.gov
  • The USED prohibits discrimination and ensures equal access to education. Without this oversight, schools may no longer be accountable to these standards. ED.gov
  • Charter Schools are currently not serving the needs of students with learning disabilities. According to Education Next, a "report published in 2000. That study found a pattern of charter schools systematically counseling out students with disabilities rather than making accommodations and providing the required services and supports; administrators at one-fourth of the charter schools in the study reported having advised parents that the school was not a good fit for their disabled children."
  • "The Federal contribution to elementary and secondary education is about 8 percent, which includes funds not only from the Department of Education (ED) but also from other Federal agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services' Head Start program and the Department of Agriculture's School Lunch program" Education Next
  • The total budget of the Department of Education is 3% of our annual national budget
  •  
Yesterday, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Thomas Massey of Kentucky that would eliminate The Department of Education.

It has eight words: "The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018."

THAT is the story from yesterday that got buried under the Three Ring Circus of the DeVos confirmation. That does not mean the DeVos confirmation is not worthy of your scrutiny. It does mean that the plot thickens. Insert descending trombone notes here. By giving her this job, she is being elevated and empowered to work in the private sector education realm more effectively. She can inflict damage during her tenure and affect more after she departs. She can assist at the highest levels in the systematic dismantling of our public education system. She can help to make sure that only the wealthiest children have access to quality education and that all education can be designed for profit. That's the real bottom line.

Here is the skinny on Betsy DeVos:
  • Betsy DeVos is a billionaire heiress to the Prince Auto Corporation fortune, and is married to Dick DeVos Jr. the son of Dick DeVos Sr. who founded Amway. The DeVos family is one of the richest in the world ranking 88 in the Forbe's 400.
  • The DeVos family has, according to DeVos' testimony, possibly donated 200 million dollars to the Republican Party. As reference in the quote above, there are specific expectations attached to those donations. 
  • Betsy DeVos' brother, Eric Prince, was the founder of Blackwater. He may be a shadow advisor to the Trump Administration. He may also have been involved in the Comey decision regarding Hillary's emails before the election. 
  • Betsy DeVos was a Republican National Committee member and chair of the Republican Party in Michigan in the 1990s.
  • Of the Senators who voted to confirm DeVos, 23 received donations from Betsy DeVos for their campaigns in the 2016 elections. One of those senators on the list broke with the party and voted 'no' yesterday. However, the two Republican senators who voted 'no' yesterday could have voted against DeVos in the first round of vetting and prevented her from advancing to yesterday's vote. So, their 'no' votes yesterday were mostly for show, probably to symbolically pander to their constituents.
  • Betsy DeVos is a staunch charter school and school voucher advocate, which on the surface seems like a noble cause. Not all public schools are funded sufficiently to provide their students with a high quality education. There are charter schools that really can and do help students achieve. However, the majority of charter schools in Michigan have not risen to that occasion. There is no federal oversight of Charter Schools and more importantly no federal oversight of how they are spending public funds. When monies earmarked for public education are given to private schools, the poor children who lack more income to afford expensive private schools are only able to afford less expensive private schools. Money that could be used to improve public education is filtered into privatization, and this means the deck is stacked against poor children. Through her efforts to privatize schools in Michigan, DeVos has helped to defund and bankrupt the Detroit public schools
  • According to this article in The New Yorker: "As a board member of Children First America and the American Education Reform Council, and later as the chair of the American Federation for Children, DeVos lobbied for school-choice voucher programs and tax-credit initiatives, intended to widen the range of institutions—including private and religious—that could receive funding that might otherwise go to both charter and traditional public schools. In a 2013 interview with Philanthropy Magazine, DeVos expressed her ultimate goals in education reform, which she said she saw encompassing not just charter schools and voucher programs but also homeschooling and virtual education."
  • Betsy DeVos did not attend public school. Her children did not attend public school. She did sit on the Michigan Board of Education
  • Betsy DeVos opposes labor unions, her husband Dick DeVos donated 44 million dollars to the Republican Party in Michigan and helped to elect representatives sympathetic to "right to work" laws. Here is a quote: "Michigan big labor literally controls one of the major political parties," Dick DeVos said last January. "I'm not suggesting they have influence; I'm saying they hold total dominance, command, and control." (Labor unions are one of the biggest financial supporters of the Democratic Party.)
  • Betsy DeVos has no actual experience in public education. The sum total of her association with education has been her advocacy of the replacement of public schools with a privatized 'free market' education system. Here is a link to a letter to the editor she wrote about Detroit Public Schools. Detroit is an extremely poor, underfunded school system. DeVos worked to discredit the public schools and pull funding out of them for charter, online, home schooling and other 'alternative' privatized forms of public education.
  • Michigan spent 1 billion dollars on charter schools. Here is what happened
  • Here is the bottom line on charter schools in Michigan "According to the Free Press’ review, 38% of charter schools that received state academic rankings during the 2012-13 school year fell below the 25th percentile, meaning at least 75% of all schools in the state performed better. Only 23% of traditional public schools fell below the 25th percentile."
  • One more quote from the Free Press Review article: "And, despite the rhetoric of “choice,” lower-income students were effectively segregated into poorer-performing schools, while the parents of more privileged students were better equipped to navigate the system. Even Tom Watkins, the state’s former education superintendent, who favors charter schools, told the newspaper, “In a number of cases, people are making a boatload of money, and the kids aren’t getting educated.”"
  • Betsy DeVos chaired All Children Matter, a school choice lobby which was fined 5.3 million dollars for violating election laws. 
  • Dick DeVos, Betsy's husband, who served on the State Board of Education in Michigan in 1990, started the West Michigan Aviation Academy, located at Gerald Ford International Airport. This is a private charter school that serves an "overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male population of students."
  • Betsey DeVos has stated that she believes education reform is a way to "advanced God's kingdom." She was POTUS' second choice to run the US Department of Education after Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University declined the position. Liberty University is the largest Christian university in the nation, they teach creationism as part of their curriculum
  • Betsey DeVos was an investor in KinderCare Education, connected to Michael Milken's (yes, that Michael Milken) K12 Inc. charter schools. Take a moment to read about this 16 million dollar fleecing of the US taxpayers. She has agreed to divest herself of this investment.
  • Betsey DeVos and her husband own a private investment and management firm called RDV. According to the Washington Post, "RDV is affiliated with LMF WF Portfolio, a limited liability corporation listed in regulatory filings as one of several firms involved in a $147 million loan to Performant Financial Corp., a debt collection agency in business with the Education Department." According to PR Watch: "Performant recently lost out on a U.S. Department of Education contract and is appealing the decision with the Government Accountability Office." They have also racked up 335 customer complaints to the Better Business Bureau. Yes, Ms. DeVos is affiliated with a debt collection agency that focuses on college student loan collections that held 14 government contracts worth 20 million dollars that is currently seeking to renew their contract with the US Department of Education. Sit and soak in that for a moment, then we will review.
The big story yesterday was that the House will be voting on advancing a bill to eliminate the US Department of Education. It was buried under the adjunct story, which was also big. The adjunct story is that a billionaire, who is part of a family that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to influence government policy and is the sister of the founder of Blackwater, was given a cabinet position for which she is entirely unqualified. The most important part of that adjunct story is that this billionaire has a clear agenda to dismantle public schools, implement for profit private schools, promote her religious agenda in these private schools without having to be fettered by the separation of church, and to add more money to her considerable coffers. Her ability to do so, and to profiteer in other ways related to the business of education, will be bolstered by this position.

And that should burn the ever living hell out of your biscuits, folks.

In solidarity,
Madge

4 comments:

  1. As a 36 year educator, who did not vote for Trump, if he can close down useless (and unconstituitonal) Departments like Education in the federal government, he will have earned my vote in 2020. Your own comments in this article underscore how useless this waste of money Department is.

    ReplyDelete
  2. So, you would prefer that schools become privatized and people like Betsy DeVos can profiteer freely, still on the taxpayer dime? I find that bizarre. I also find it fascinating that you are posting as anonymous. If you believe in your statement, then stand up and speak out without hiding behind the cloak of anonymity. If not, then I don't believe you. Also, I am unclear which of my comments underscore that point.

    Best,
    Margot

    ReplyDelete
  3. I found this page via your post shared by my friend Karan on facebook. I was aware of a great deal of what you've published here, but not all. As a 25-year veteran teacher of South Carolina's public schools, I find the current state of things both sickening and chilling. Even so, I thank you for your research. Better the enemy we know than the one we don't.
    And just for info, I also find it fascinating that Anonymous feels so strongly that he/she won't share his/her identity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are one of many public school educators whom have expressed these sentiments to me. The deeper you dig, the more corrupt and chilling this all becomes. Vigilance and diligence are of tantamount importance. Thank you for visiting and for your comment.

      Best
      Margot

      Delete

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