Nov 30, 2016 by



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(Photo: Prosavage2600)Betsy DeVos, Present-elect Donald Trump’s pick to head the Department of Education, has, as Douglas N. Harris recently wrote in an Op-Ed in The New York Times, “sent shock waves through the educational establishment.” And that is probably what Team Trump hoped would happen and continues to happen when DeVos takes office. Several years before being tapped by Trump, Americans United’s Rob Boston observed, “DeVos’ goal is nothing short of a radical re-creation of education in the United States, with tax-supported religious and other private schools replacing the traditional public school system.”

Betsy DeVos is a billionaire philanthropist, a longtime funder of multiple right-wing causes and candidates, and an ardent supporter of school vouchers/charter schools/privatization of public schools.

DeVos, and her brother, Erik Prince – the founder of Blackwater, the private military force that received contract worth billions of dollars from the U.S. government — are two of the four children of  Elsa Prince Broekhuizen and the late Edgar Prince.

Edgar Prince made his fortune in Prince Automotive, and became one of the primary supporters of numerous Religious Right organizations and causes. Betsy DeVos is married to Dick DeVos, former CEO of Amway/Alticor and Republican candidate for governor of Michigan in a failed bid in 2006.

As Rachel Tabachnik, an extraordinary researcher and writer on the conservative movement, has pointed out, “The Prince and DeVos families are at the intersection of radical free market privatization and the Religious Right, and have made an enormous impact on the current political atmosphere.”

In a recent piece for The Heritage Foundation’s The Daily Signal, Kelsey Harkness, a senior news producer at The Daily Signal, listed seven things the Heritage Foundation wants its supporters to know about DeVos:

* “She does not support Common Core ‘period.’”

* “She strongly supports school vouchers.”

* “She also supports charter schools.”

* “She’s an outsider in Washington, but an insider in Michigan.”

* “She supports homeschooling.”

* “She funds a variety of nonprofits.”

* “She chose to send her children to private Christian schools.”

What Heritage is less likely to be talking about is DeVos’ work designing the charter school system of Detroit, arguably “the biggest school reform disaster in the country,” Harris, a professor of economics at Tulane University, and the founding director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, pointed out. “One well-regarded study found that Detroit’s charter schools performed at about the same dismal level as its traditional public schools. The situation is so bad that national philanthropists interested in school reform refuse to work in Detroit.”

In a 2010 Church & State piece titled “Michigan Multi-Millionaire Betsy DeVos Is A Four-Star General In A Deceptive Behind-The-Scenes War On Public Schools And Church-State Separation” Rob Boston wrote: “Political gamesmanship and special interests should never stand in the way of providing children with access to great schools,” DeVos fulminated in a press release announcing the creation of the American Federation for Children. “We know that it takes smart public policy – and political backbone – to bring about the types of school choice programs that provide families with better educational opportunities. That is why we have created the American Federation for Children.”

Here are a few more things to keep in mind about DeVos. According to a 2014 profile of DeVos by former Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll, “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.”

“The problem with DeVos is that she simply does not support public education,” Rob Boston, Director of Communications Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told me in a email. “She has devoted her entire career to finding ways to divert taxpayer money away from public schools and toward private ones, most often by pushing voucher plans. This means that for the next four years at least we’re going to have a Secretary of Private Education. It will be like Bill Bennett under Reagan.

“Ninety percent of our young people attend public schools. Given the importance of these schools to our country, that’s where the emphasis needs to be. Yet I expect DeVos to spend most of her time pursuing the right wing’s long-sought goal of privatizing secondary education, what I call the “Walmartization” of schooling.”

Boston pointed out that both DeVos and her husband are known for their anti-LGBTQ activism. “Under President Obama, efforts were made to protect the rights of LGBTQ students in public schools. Those initiatives will probably be rolled back,” Boston said..

“The DeVos nomination fits a pattern for Trump. He seems determined to put people in charge of federal departments who are either woefully under qualified or who don’t support the central mission of the agency. It’s going to be a long four years.”

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