In a week that saw yet more convoluted White House behavior, another contentious staff change (Chief of Staff Priebus is out and General John Kelly will replace him), and outrageous comments from the new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, relatively little has been heard about education. The attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act (unsuccessful so far) and the sad news that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) had been diagnosed with brain cancer were two of many news events that dominated the media. This is understandable.
Unfortunately, this also distracted attention away from the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos who has not been idle, merely less visible.
First let me share some back story on Betsy as she is in many ways an unknown quantity to many of us other than those in Michigan, her home state. Born there in 1958 as Elisabeth Prince, her father Edgar Prince accumulated vast wealth in the automotive parts industry in the 1960s. She would later marry Dick DeVos who knew immense wealth from the Amway Company via his father. This money has been used by the DeVoses for decades now to buy influence and to force issues in the direction they choose. That choice has some very questionable elements and overtones to it.
To see the continuity of the political involvement of Betsy’s family beyond education, I would note that she has a brother who has made the news too. Erik Prince is a familiar name to many who remember the mercenary company Blackwater. It has since changed hands and changed names, but it has been amidst a swirl of controversy where the Trump/Russia ties have been concerned. Stories began surfacing in January 2017 that Prince was secretly advising Trump and setting up meeting(s) with a Russian who had close ties with Putin. The story broke fully in April 2017 that indeed such a meeting had taken place, and you can read a Washington Post story about it: Blackwater founder held secret Seychelles meeting to establish Trump-Putin back channel.
Erik Prince is currently living abroad as he faces possible arrest and indictment here in the U.S. on weapons and money laundering charges.
Betsy was raised in Holland, Michigan, a primarily Dutch community and brought up in the traditions of the Christian Reformed Church…a conservative Protestant denomination which believes that education is best taken care of by the family, not the government. It is here that we see the germination of her dogma where public education is concerned…she despises it. She does not have any interest in fixing it, finding ways to bring it forward into the 21st century to better serve the children of the U.S.—she wants it gone.
With absolutely no involvement , background, training, or degrees in education, she has obtained the highest position in the federal government where education is concerned. She has not tried to hide the fact that she holds higher public education in low regard (and the educators too), but she truly believes that her plan for the remaking of the U.S. education system is in order to build (her words) “God’s Kingdom”. She will work towards numerous goals to this end, and has in fact already taken actions just as we might expect from a dedicated conservative right wing Christian who is light on knowledge and heavy on blurring the line that should separate church and state. These actions were on issues involving, but not limited to:
- LGBTQ safety and equal rights in school
- Loan forgiveness
- Office of Civil Rights (OCR) being drastically reduced/overhauled to declaw it
- Slow and silent reversal of numerous Civil Rights statutes and rules with OCR now unable to take action
- Refusal to explain how funding to non-public schools will work in terms of those that might violate the Civil Rights of students
- Not releasing full disclosure of financing efforts and provisions in terms of Christian charter/voucher schools versus secular private or the diminishing public schools budgets
The evidence is not hard to find, the DeVoses have given millions of dollars over the years to Christian schools and camps, which is their prerogative, but her claim to love all students is also easily proven as false—she has a very narrow view of who is acceptable and who is not in society. It is obvious to me that she wants to channel funding from the federal government into private Christian schools because she is an extremist when it comes to her religion. She feels that her money should be allowed to buy her influence, and it has because she now is the influence…a lobbyist with a cabinet position.
Cost of that seat? A mere $200 million over the years, including $900,000+ divided among many of the senators confirming her to the position of Secretary of Education. That is mathematics the Betsy DeVos way, worthy of an F.
In the next installment of Betsy’s Report Card I will look at the charter/voucher school issue in Michigan where she has wreaked havoc, at other states who have tried it, and what the conversion might mean for the rest of the U.S.