Trump and DeVos’s Priorities for Education: Gut and Privatize

Drafts of the President’s education budget reveal deep cuts to vital programs including: student loans, mental health, after school programs, teacher training, class size reduction, arts education, academic enrichment, and the list goes on.  More funding for  private school and religious schools via vouchers, charters, and other “choice” mechanisms.

Trump’s first full education budget: Deep cuts to public school programs in pursuit of school choice

From the Washington Post May 17 at 3:14 PM.  


Betsy DeVos: Profit or altruism?

We have twice looked at the nomination of Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education.  This time, we look at her confirmation hearing, ethics report, and some of the things we learned, and did not learn, about her intentions to lead the Department of Education.

First, we clearly learned that Republicans in the Senate are intent on getting this nominee, and other nominees, through the hearing process and on to confirmation votes.  The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a confirmation hearing on January 17th.  Each Senator was allowed 5 minutes to question DeVos.  In spite of a chorus of calls to allow more time for questioning, Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander flatly refused.


On Friday, January 20th, three days after the hearing, the Office of Government Ethics released DeVos’s financial paperwork and disclosures. Here we learned, not surprisingly, that Betsy DeVos’s interest in education extends beyond altruism to profit.  The Secretary nominee has a myriad of direct and indirect investments that are, or could represent, conflicts of interest.  This includes a stake in companies and products that provide services for both K-12 and higher education, including a student debt collecting firm that contracts with the U.S. Department of Education.  DeVos has pledged to divest from over 100 different interests within 90 days, if confirmed.

We can expect a committee vote on her confirmation on January 31.

So, what did we learn from the DeVos hearing?

  • First, and perhaps most outrageously, Betsy DeVos does not support schools as gun free zones. When asked by Senator Murphy, “Do you think guns should be in or around schools?”, DeVos actually used grizzly bears as a reason that guns should not be outlawed in schools.   Grizzly bears.  DeVos pointed to a single school in Wyoming that might need to protect students from grizzly bears as a reason that all schools should allow guns.

Watch the guns in schools video clip:


  • Second, DeVos is willing to evade, then evade again on the topic of accountability in schools. When asked by Senator Kaine if ALL schools, traditional, charter, or private, that receive taxpayer funds should be held to the same accountability standards, DeVos answered: “I support accountability.”  However, when asked about whether it should be the same accountability across types of schools, she evaded four separate times with this same answer.  Ultimately, she had to admit that she does not agree with equal accountability standards.

Watch the “I support accountability” video clip:


  • Third, DeVos either was completely lacking in a fundamental understanding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), or she used evasion to her own benefit. When asked by Senator Hassan about enforcement of IDEA, DeVos said that states should have rights to enforce it as they see fit.  When told that IDEA is a federal law, DeVos claimed confusion.  While many have said this shows her lack of knowledge, we might question whether or not this “confusion” was really an attempt to evade the real answer about her willingness to enforce federal law.

Watch the IDEA video clip:


There were other moments in the DeVos hearing that caused concerns.  In an exchange with Senator Franken, she clearly was unwilling or unable to discuss the different ways to measure student academic growth.  In an exchange with Senator Warren about protecting students from waste, fraud and abuse at for-profit colleges, DeVos would only say that she would be “vigilant.”  When pressed, she offered that she would review existing rules – not enforce them.  When Senator Bennett asked in detail about the documented failure of Detroit schools, which fall under DeVos’ s own Michigan Model, she simply said that “a lot has gone right.”

Overall, her fundamental lack of knowledge and/or willingness to dodge issues was jaw dropping.  We continue to believe that Betsy DeVos is a dangerous and wrong choice for a position that must ensure the best education for ALL of America’s children.

Lisa Romero is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at California State University Sacramento.

Betsy DeVos: What to watch for in her confirmation

This afternoon, Tuesday, January 17, Betsy DeVos is scheduled to appear before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) for her confirmation hearing to become the eleventh U.S. Secretary of Education.  The hearing will be chaired by Senator Lamar Alexander, Chair of HELP, and a former Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush.  On the Democratic side of the panel, Senator Patty Murray of Washington is Ranking Member of the Committee, though Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren is expected to take a major role in challenging DeVos.

The Committee is currently scheduled to vote on the DeVos nomination on January 24.  That schedule may change as Democrats push to have the schedule delayed while the Office of Government Ethics attempts to sort out DeVos’ tangled financial interests and political contributions.

In an effort to provide a scorecard, or in this case perhaps, a crib sheet, there are some things to look for as the DeVos nomination is considered.  Hearings are theoretically supposed to offer a chance for a full consideration of the background and policy positions of a nominee.  However, all too often, they become carefully orchestrated dances, often involving ducking and skirting – ducking of issues and skirting of real positions.

Betsy DeVos has a long history of activism on education policy.  That activism should be considered from three perspectives.  First is religion, second is ultra-right political money, and third is privatizing education.


It is an understatement to say that Betsy DeVos is a deeply religious person.  And while many forceful advocates for education have been deeply religious – from John Dewey to Martin Luther King, Jr. – Betsy DeVos takes a different, and dangerous perspective.  She is an evangelical, conservative, fundamentalist Christian, and, as such, believes that state and religion should not be separate, but instead should be merged.  She, in fact, would use schools to promote her religious beliefs.  How do we know this?  From her own words.  At a 2001 gathering of Christian philanthropists, she pointed to education as a way to “advance God’s kingdom,” and has separately said that school choice will create “greater kingdom gain.”  pray-for-americas-schools

She would accomplish this by a charter and voucher system that would provide vouchers to parents to help pay for private education at religious schools providing religious training.  This voucher program segues directly to Trump’s announced plan to provide $20 billion for a federal voucher system.  Her fundamentalist view also informs her views about the role of women in society, about gays and lesbians, and about a myriad of other issues.  While DeVos may drastically deemphasize religion in her hearing, you may trust that she would not deemphasize it in her leadership at the Department of Education.


Betsy DeVos and her family are very well known for their political contributions to candidates and to initiative efforts.  Many of those initiative efforts have involved education.  Michigan, her home state, is a good example of her activism and how that activism has gone very wrong.

In the 1990s, the DeVos family led an effort to bring about “school choice” in their home state of Michigan.  They spent lots of money to create a school system that allows for the uncontrolled growth in charter schools, both for-profit and non-profit, with the promise that the market will weed out non-performers.  How has this worked out?  How have Michigan schools performed?  Not well.  The Detroit Free Press found that public schools outperform charter schools in Michigan, and Michigan schools overall underperform when compared with schools in other states.  The Michigan model, largely created with DeVos family political money, has not worked.  You may not hear the real results of the Michigan model at the DeVos hearing, but you can check the results for yourself (see links below).


Betsy DeVos, like Donald Trump, seems, at her core, to be a foe of public education.  As we have previous pointed out in this blog, neither EVER attended public school and neither EVER sent their children to public school.  Both are intent on providing vouchers so that parents who can afford it can avoid public schools for their children. Vouchers not only siphon money away from public schools, they create more schools segregated by race, by class, and by religion. This is to the detriment of public education and by extension to democracy in America.  A common American experience in vibrant public schools is essential to the advancement of society.

You can be almost certain that DeVos will have a prepared statement at her hearing that talks of the importance of public education, and that we must uplift our schools so that all may prosper.  You can be just as certain that these lines were practiced at a session with political prompters hoping that DeVos will glide through her hearing unscathed.  But it is political theater.  DeVos is perhaps the one most dangerous of Trump’s nominees – a person who wants to tear at the fabric of the separation of church and state, a person who wants to privatize education, a person who will promote policies that will further segregate our schools.

In Betsy DeVos’s world, schools, public and private, have two purposes – proselytizing and profit.

For more:


Lisa Romero is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at California State University Sacramento.

Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Patty Murray as the Senator from Oregon. Senator Murray is from State of Washington.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day


Perhaps even more than usual, this Martin Luther King Jr. Day calls for reflection on race relations and racial equity in America. We have just emerged from a year characterized by police brutality toward people of color, resentment and unrest rooted in that brutality, and the most divisive, bruising presidential election in recent memory.mlk-march

Education provides a window into the state of racial inequality in the United States and, potentially, the nation’s perceptions of it. Read More — Race, Class, and American’s Perspectives of Achievement Gaps

Reposted from Brookings Institute, Brown Center Chalkboard, Blog by Jon Valant and Daniel Newark

Sizing Up Betsy DeVos

Imagine for a moment a collection of almost a dozen people.  Imagine them standing together in front of a public school in any town or city in America.  Now imagine that NONE of those eleven people ever attended a public school.  None of them. What are the chances?  The answer is that the chances are a sure thing if the collection of people were President-Elect Donald Trump and his children, and Secretary of Education Nominee Betsy DeVos and her children.  In fact, it is arguable that both Trump and DeVos have walked into public schools mostly for the purpose of making political statements.


While it is striking that those eleven have never attended a public school, the better question – at least at this point – about DeVos being nominated to head the Department of Education is about her credentials and qualifications.  How does she measure up against other Secretaries of Education?  This is, in fact, a fairly straightforward task.  Since the Department of Education was created in 1979, it has had 10 Secretaries lead it.  As a kind of summary, six of these Secretaries were nominated by Republicans and four by Democrats.  And an equal number of Secretaries have been from each party.  Continue reading

Election 2016: Historic Senate Election in California

Election 2016

Decision time is soon upon us.  The election of November 2016 will include races for the presidency, a third of all U.S. Senate seats, all seats in the House of Representatives, and many, many state and local races.  In this section, we will consider some of the upcoming races, and look at the candidates and where they stand on the future of education.  Check back from time to time as we more fully develop this feature.

 The California Senate Race – 2016

California has not had an open seat for U.S. Senate since 1992.  That was a historic race – the first to elect two women from one state to the Senate.  Since then, for 24 years, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have represented California in the Senate, each winning reelection each cycle.  This year, Barbara Boxer has opted to not run again.  And again, California is making history. Two women of color, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, both Democrats, were the top vote takers in the primary election.  This ensures that the State will continue to be represented by two women, and importantly, that California, a remarkably diverse state, will have a more diverse representation in Congress.  Harris claims both African American and East Indian heritage, while Sanchez would be the first Latina ever in the Senate.  Both are children of immigrants. Continue reading

Time to start thinking differently about math and science talent

An area of near universal agreement among America’s leaders is the need for more scientists and engineers.  In fact, this may be the one topic where our business, education, labor, and political leaders converge.  While some fields have more qualified applicants than positions, the situation in the STEM fields is just the opposite.  There are more openings in technology and science than there are Americans to fill them. We currently solve this problem by granting H-1B visas and importing scientists, engineers, and others with specialized skills and training from around the world.   While attracting the best and the brightest has long been part of our national lore and our immigrant past, present, and future, and is something to be proud of, few would deny that we need to train more Americans in these fields. Doing so, would provide access to quality, high paying jobs currently out of reach of young college graduates searching for work and, at the macro level, would benefit our national economy and competitiveness.

Citrus Community College STEM Student

If we want to produce more world-class scientists we may need to change the way we think about STEM learning and what makes a good scientist. Continue reading