First published in the Samford Advocate, Wendy Lecker lays out the details about Secretary of Education designate Betsy DeVosas anti-public education legacy. Lecker writes;
President-elect Donald Trump selected Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos as his candidate for Secretary of Education. The DeVos nomination should alarm anyone who values public education. First, she is wholly unqualified to be Secretary of Education. She has no education degree or background, and has never worked in, attended or sent her children to public school. More worrisome, she and her husband have been on a 20-plus year crusade to eliminate public education.
Betsy DeVos freely admits that she buys political influence. As The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer wrote, DeVos declared that she expects a “return on our investment” in donating to politicians. The return she seeks is the creation a conservative Christian government. For example, DeVos and her husband bankrolled the successful 2004 ballot referendum in Michigan banning gay marriage.
Among the DeVos’ long-running crusades in their quest to “christianize” America is their campaign to destroy public education. DeVos pushed Michigan’s first charter school law in 1993. As noted in a 1996 Detroit Metro Times article, while the DeVos’ ultimate aim was to abolish public education and steer public funds to parochial schools, they knew not to be blatant about that goal. Thus, they chose a vehicle that blurred the lines between public and private schools- a “gateway drug” to privatizing public education: charter schools.
As videos and documents discovered by journalists reveal, the DeVos and their allies crafted a covert strategy to privatize education. They advised focusing on “school choice” rather than mentioning “parochial schools.” They warned against having this campaign seen as a “conservative” idea, thus they sought to enlist those not on their political spectrum, especially people of color. Therefore, they suggested speaking of “choice” as the “civil rights issue” of our time. A central strategy was to relentlessly discredit public schools, linking the smear of public schools with efforts to defund them.
While the DeVos were unsuccessful in pushing school vouchers in Michigan, they were successful in creating an unregulated, wild-west charter sector in Michigan that has destabilized predominately minority school districts in the state. The DeVos’ influence in expanding charter schools, together with an inadequately-funded state school finance system in which “money follows the child” to whichever school she attends, has wreaked havoc on Michigan’s poorest cities.
Detroit is the poster child for the damage the DeVos have done to Michigan’s public schools. As Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press observed, thanks to the DeVos’ efforts to block any regulation, anyone can open a charter school there without regard to quality or qualifications.
It is universally acknowledged that the explosion of charters in Detroit is a major factor in the decline of the city’s public schools. Since schools have many fixed costs, the loss of students does not automatically translate into savings commensurate with the funding schools lose. So, Detroit schools have had to respond to the hemorrhaging of funds by drastically cutting services and staff, and closing schools. And because the charters that replaced public schools are among the lowest performing in the state, children in Detroit have no good “choices.”
This past legislative session, the Devos poured $1.45 million into successfully defeating a bill that would have brought some oversight to Detroit charters.
Betsy DeVos’ nomination brings to the fore some important truths about charter schools. Charter schools are part of a larger strategy to privatize and eliminate public schools. The slogan that charters and choice are part of a “civil rights” agenda is propaganda originating from ultra-conservative white Christian activists disguising their true aims.
In reality, choice in the form of charters increases segregation and devastates community public schools in our most distressed cities. As charters have proliferated in predominately minority cities, children and parents of color bear the brunt of this destruction.
So it is mind-boggling that, in reacting to the DeVos nomination, Jennifer Alexander, head of the charter lobby ConnCAN, described DeVos as a “strong advocate for choice, particularly for our most vulnerable students … And she does seem to be a strong advocate for high standards and accountability for results.”
Seriously? DeVos intentionally decimated education for Michigan’s most vulnerable students and spent millions to block any accountability for charter schools that were abysmal failures by any standard.
Like DeVos, ConnCAN and other charter advocates have spent millions to buy political influence in Connecticut, weakening accountability for and ensuring the expansion of charters, all the while claiming they were advancing “civil rights.” So perhaps Alexander’s doublespeak praise for DeVos is fitting. They seem to be on the same team.
You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s commentary piece on Betsy Devos at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-DeVos-crusade-against-public-10688037.php