Democracy & Government

Betsy DeVos Confirmed Despite Massive Protests

Despite the insult DeVos represents to public education, her nomination did unite the organizations fighting against its privatization.

Betsy DeVos Confirmed Despite Massive [...]

Protesters at a protest opposing then-Secretary of Education-designate Betsy DeVos in Washington, DC on Jan. 29, 2017. (Photo by Ted Eytan/ flickr CC 2.0)

This post originally appeared at DianeRavitch.net.

The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of Education is an outrageous insult to the millions of people who send their children to public schools, to the millions of students who attend public schools, to the millions of educators who work in public schools and to the millions of people — like me — who graduated from public school.

As expected, the vote was 50-50, and Vice President Pence was called in to cast the tie-breaking vote.

She was never a student, a parent, an educator or school board member of public schools. It is her life’s work to tear down public education. She does not respect the line of separation between church and state. She supports for-profit charter schools.

It is a sad day for American public education when a person who has repeatedly expressed contempt for public schools is confirmed as secretary of Education.

She is ignorant of federal law, federal programs and federal policy. When asked at her Senate hearing about the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, she did not know it was a federal law. She had given no thought to lessening the burden of debt that college students bear, which now exceeds $1 trillion. At a time when the federal role in aiding students with the high cost of college needs to be redesigned, she knows nothing about it.

As the ethics counselors for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama pointed out, DeVos has financial conflicts of interest which she refuses to divest. She told the Senate committee that she had no role in her mother’s foundation, which has funneled millions of dollars to anti-LGBT organizations, but her name appears on 17 years of the foundation’s audited tax returns. She told the committee that online charter corporations produce stellar results, but researchers demonstrated with facts that she was wrong.

Choice policies in Michigan have caused the test scores in that state to decline. Detroit, overrun with charters and choice, is a chaotic mess.

It is a sad day for American public education when a person who has repeatedly expressed contempt for public schools is confirmed as secretary of Education.

But there is a silver lining to this dark cloud. Her obvious lack of qualification for the job has created a maelstrom of protest against her. Senators report that they have never received so much feedback about a Cabinet nominee, overwhelmingly negative. Telephone lines were jammed, in some offices, shut down.

Strange as it may seem, the confirmation of DeVos is a victory for those who spoke out against her.

The DeVos nomination awakened parents and educators to the dangers of privatization. She personifies the privatization movement. She is the leader of the Billionaire Girls Club, spreading her millions across the land to reward and enrich allies in Congress, on state and local school boards, and in any setting where she could tout school choice as a magical remedy for poor performance. Charters and vouchers, whether for-profit or nonprofit, is her sole idea. She has singlehandedly stripped bare the “reform” movement, showing it to be not a civil rights movement but a privatization movement funded by billionaires and religious zealots.

About half the Republican senators have received substantial campaign contributions from the DeVos family. How else to explain their determination to confirm her regardless of mass protests against her. Hers is the first Senate confirmation vote in history that required the intervention of the vice president to supply a tie-breaking vote. She enters office with no reservoir of public trust.

Strange as it may seem, the confirmation of DeVos is a victory for those who spoke out against her. We joined with many organizations — People for the American Way, the ACLU and many more — to say NO. The response was overwhelming. The Network for Public Education generated well over half a million emails.

For those of us fighting back against privatization, Betsy DeVos was a great tool for organizing and mobilizing and informing the public. Had there been one courageous Republican, had DeVos been defeated, Trump would have found another privatizer. And the fight would have started over.

She created the informed public we need to build a strong movement against privatization.

Consider this article that appeared in The Washington Post. The author describes herself as someone who was never interested in politics. Having learned about DeVos, the writer became a political activist.

This is the spirit we need to continue the fight for the future of public schools in America.

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is a historian of education, an educational policy analyst and a research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. She discusses education and policy on her blog, dianeravitch.net. Follow her on Twitter: @DianeRavitch.

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