President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Betsy DeVos as his nominee for Secretary of Education, despite the fact that she has no experience with public education. Instead, DeVos has led the crusade to create taxpayer-funded private school voucher programs, which undermine our public schools. What’s more, vouchers don’t improve educational outcomes, they lack accountability and oversight, they fund schools that discriminate and violate religious freedom.
Aside from her record on vouchers, there are many other things we know about her, too. For instance, we know that she has admitted she uses large campaign contributions to buy political influence: “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.”
And, we know that she founded the Great Lakes Education Project which was the “chief force” in advocating against a 2016 legislative proposal that would provide more oversight of charter schools, even though “a federal review found that ‘an unreasonably high’ percentage of charter schools were on the list of the state’s lowest performing schools.” Failure to impose proper oversight of charter schools leads to many problems, including violations of the separation of church and state. In Arizona, for instance, we filed a lawsuit over a charter school’s mandatory American government class, which instructs students that they are duty-bound to obey the 10 Commandments and other religious principles.
But there is so much more we would like to know about the nominee.
It’s the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s responsibility to ask her questions at a hearing that is expected to take place in January—and we’d like the committee to ask her a lot of questions.
For instance, we’d like to know why DeVos supports voucher programs, when taxpayer-funded vouchers go to schools that teach creationism or the Bible as literal truth.
We’d also like to know how she can justify sending taxpayer-funded vouchers to private schools that can refuse to admit students based on their sex, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, economic status, academic achievement and other characteristics. For instance, one voucher school in North Carolina declares that it discriminates in admissions against members of what it deems “cults, i.e. Mormons, Jehovah Witness, Christian Science, Unification Church, Zen Buddhism, Unitarianism, and United Pentecostal.”
And, we’d like to know how DeVos could advocate for voucher programs that give taxpayer-funded voucher to private schools that are often rundown. The D.C. voucher program, for example, has funded a school “run out of a soot-stained storefront,” and an unaccredited school that “supported by the Nation of Islam and was run out of a rowhouse” where “the bathroom had a floor blackened with dirt, a sink coated in grime and a bathtub filled with paint cans and cleaning supplies.”
And, of course we want to know how she can support voucher programs when the vast majority of taxpayer-funded vouchers go to religious schools. Using anyone’s tax dollars to fund a religious education with which they fundamentally disagree (or even agree) flies in the face of religious freedom.
DeVos’s nomination is especially troubling because the Trump-Pence administration has pledged to push for the creation of a $20 billion, nationwide voucher program. If there’s one thing DeVos is qualified for—it’s leading the administration’s fight for this extreme and flawed proposal.
The hearing on DeVos will likely happen even before the inauguration of Donald Trump and Mike Pence. That is why, at Americans United, we are already working hard to push back on her nomination and the Trump-Pence administration’s voucher plan. We’re advocating for members of the committee to ask DeVos these very questions, and others.
But we need your help, too. We need you to urge the committee to ask DeVos questions about her support for vouchers, and here’s an easy way for you to do so.