We’re still seeing fallout from Wednesday’s abortive coup attempt by a raging mob inspired by President Donald Trump. The incident seems to have been a turning point for some of Trump’s most ardent backers, who are finally jumping ship. The latest to go is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who announced her resignation last night.
DeVos has been one of Trump’s most loyal backers and stayed with him all four years. During that time, she ignored the needs of public schools and relentlessly promoted school vouchers.
When Trump announced he would appoint DeVos to the top education slot after the 2016 election, Americans United was quick to sound the alarm. We had been following her career for years and knew that not only did DeVos have no experience working in public education, she was hostile to the very concept. In her native Michigan, she pushed voucher plans incessantly, taking her advocacy of these schemes nationwide through a front group she called American Federation for Children. (It originally had a more honest name: Advocates for School Choice.)
Sure enough, DeVos spent the past four years acting as a cheerleader for privatization, although she was never able to get a national voucher plan into law. Under her scheme, private schools should be able to tap the public purse yet remain largely unaccountable. She would allow even schools receiving public funds to ignore federal laws that protect students with disabilities, dodge even the most basic forms of oversight and teach junk science and other questionable curriculum materials.
Driven by an extreme privatization-at-all-costs ideology, DeVos ignored inconvenient truths. She refused to acknowledge the numerous studies showing that vouchers don’t improve student performance, and she simply overlooked the fact that most Americans don’t support these schemes and have, time and again, rejected them at the ballot box.
In America, 90 percent of our young people attend public schools. Unlike private schools, which have the right to pick and choose among students, our public schools welcome everyone, regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic background or other factors. The best way to ensure success for all is to focus on the public system. DeVos either didn’t know this or didn’t care.
President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Miguel Cardona to be his education secretary. Unlike DeVos, Cardona has had a long and distinguished career in public education. He has been a classroom teacher and an administrator. Most recently, he served as Connecticut’s commissioner of education.
At Americans United, we’re hopeful for a new day at the Education Department. Assuming he is confirmed, Cardona will have a lot of work to do to clean up the mess left behind by DeVos and her wrecking crew. Job one will be getting the department’s focus back where it belongs: strengthening, improving and adequately funding the public school system for the benefit of all Americans.
Photo: Screenshot from C-SPAN