If there were ever a president who would turn American public schools into for-profit "charter school" mills bilking taxpayers for billions, it would be the man behind Trump University's $25 million settlement for fraud. Now imagine the criteria for kind of person he'd select as his Education Secretary, and at the top of your list would be former Michigan GOP party chair and "charter school" advocate Betsy DeVos.
On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to use federal funds to encourage states to make school choice available to all poor students, including through vouchers that allow families to take public funding to private schools.
That’s exactly what DeVos has zealously worked to make happen on a state-by-state basis for decades. In 2000, she helped get a ballot measure before Michigan voters that would have enshrined a right to vouchers in the state’s Constitution. After the measure failed, she and her husband formed a political action committee to support pro-voucher candidates nationally. Less than a decade later, the group counted a 121-60 win-loss record.
One recipient of its support: former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who created the voucher program that Trump’s vice president-elect, Mike Pence, later expanded. Indeed, DeVos’s vision puts her more in line with Pence, who has supported private school vouchers for both low- and middle-income families, than with Trump, whose plan extends only to poor families.
Ahh, but it gets worse. It always does with Trump.
DeVos and her husband played a role in getting Michigan’s charter school law passed in 1993, and ever since have worked to protect charters from additional regulation. When Michigan lawmakers this year were considering a measure that would have added oversight for charter schools in Detroit, members of the DeVos family poured $1.45 million into legislators’ campaign coffers — an average of $25,000 a day for seven weeks. Oversight was not included in the final legislation.
The DeVos influence is one reason that Michigan’s charter sector is among the least regulated in the country. Roughly 80 percent of charters in Michigan are run by private companies, far more than in any other state. And state authorities have done little up to now to ensure that charter schools are effectively serving students, eliciting concern from current federal authorities.
“There are a lot of schools that are doing poorly and charter authorizers do not seem to be taking the necessary actions to either improve performance or close those underperforming charters,” current U.S. Secretary of Education John King told Chalkbeat about Michigan last month.
So if you wanted to bring the Trump University model to America's public schools, you'd pick this woman to lead the way.
Needless to say, guess who Trump wants for the job?
President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday said he intends to appoint West Michigan GOP mega donor and philanthropist Betsy DeVos to be his education secretary, putting an ardent supporter of school choice in charge of the nation’s education policy.
DeVos, 58, is seen as a national leader in the school choice movement, which she has called an attempt to “empower” parents to find good schools for their children, whether they be traditional public schools in other neighborhoods, charter schools, virtual schools or private institutions.
“Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said Wednesday in a statement. “Under her leadership, we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”
And keep in mind DeVos has precisely zero experience as an educator whatsoever. But she has a lot of money, and she's good at the whole charter school scam. And yes, I've had my differences with Arne Duncan over the years, but he never, ever wanted to do to America's public schools what DeVos wants to do: raze them to the ground and turn them over to corporate America.
Betsy's husband is Dick DeVos, and if you're not familiar with him, you're familiar with the company he's the heir to: Amway. Dick and Betsy were instrumental in using Amway's billions to elect Rick Snyder (after Dick lost his bid for governor ten years ago) and in helping Snyder dismantle Michigan's labor unions.
THE DEVOSES sit alongside the Kochs, the Bradleys, and the Coorses as founding families of the modern conservative movement. Since 1970, DeVos family members have invested at least $200 million in a host of right-wing causes—think tanks, media outlets, political committees, evangelical outfits, and a string of advocacy groups. They have helped fund nearly every prominent Republican running for national office and underwritten a laundry list of conservative campaigns on issues ranging from charter schools and vouchers to anti-gay-marriage and anti-tax ballot measures. "There's not a Republican president or presidential candidate in the last 50 years who hasn't known the DeVoses," says Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.
Nowhere has the family made its presence felt as it has in Michigan, where it has given more than $44 million to the state party, GOP legislative committees, and Republican candidates since 1997. "It's been a generational commitment," Anuzis notes. "I can't start to even think of who would've filled the void without the DeVoses there."
The family fortune flows from 87-year-old Richard DeVos Sr. The son of poor Dutch immigrants, he cofounded the multilevel-marketing giant Amway with Jay Van Andel, a high school pal, in 1959. Five decades later, the company now sells $11 billion a year worth of cosmetics, vitamin supplements, kitchenware, air fresheners, and other household products. Amway has earned DeVos Sr. at least $6 billion; in 1991, he expanded his empire by buying the NBA's Orlando Magic. The Koch brothers can usually expect Richard and his wife, Helen, to attend their biannual donor meetings. He is a lifelong Christian conservative and crusader for free markets and small government, values he passed down to his four children.
Today, his eldest son, Dick, is the face of the DeVos political dynasty. Like his father, Dick sees organized labor as an enemy of freedom and union leaders as violent thugs who have "an almost pathological obsession with power." But while DeVos Sr. simply inveighed against unions, Dick took the fight to them directly, orchestrating a major defeat for the unions in the cradle of the modern labor movement.
And if you think Dick and Besty DeVos are bad...well, you should meet Betsy's younger brother.
So now Betsy DeVos, and in turn her husband Dick DeVos, are now soon to be in charge of America's education system. Hope you don't have any school-age kids coming though public education anytime soon.
Make America Grift Again.