When Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos submitted her resignation in the aftermath of Trump spurring on the Capitol mob last week, she wrote, “Impressionable children are watching all of this, and they are learning from us. I believe we each have a moral obligation to exercise good judgment and model the behavior we hope they would emulate.” It’s ironic that DeVos purports to understand how to exercise good judgement when it comes to “impressionable children,” given her track record as education secretary. With less than two weeks until the inauguration of the next administration, DeVos’s resignation came four years too late.
While DeVos regards herself as an advocate for children and schools, her tenure showed that she was anything but. When she was placed in her role, many within the education field scoffed. DeVos has no true experience in education, nor even any true exposure to public education, having gone to a charter school herself. Instead, she was placed there by fellow billionaires like the Kochs and the Mercers who had been working to break down public education for their own gain for years.
During the pandemic, DeVos exemplified poor leadership, eager to put students, faculty and staff at risk in order to keep schools open, health consequences be damned. She continually prioritized profit over people. A billionaire herself, DeVos spent the past four years siding with her corporate billionaire friends, like Charles Koch, over the students she supposedly was to champion. She pushed the agenda of moving tax dollars into “school choice,” over funding public education.
To list all of her true failures while serving for the Trump administration would take too long, but here are some highlights:
Budget Cuts: Throughout her time as Education Secretary, DeVos continuously pushed budget cuts that would thoroughly eviscerate the public school system. From the beginning, she attempted to eliminate summer school and after-school programs, while her 2021 proposed budget cuts a staggering $5.6 billion from the current budget, which could lead to larger class sizes and fewer school supplies among other extra challenges to already stretched schools. And where has she funneled the money? Instead of enriching and bolstering public schools, DeVos gave an unprecedented amount of money to private and charter schools, claiming they are better choices, despite research to the contrary. Instead of working to fix the state of public education, DeVos once again sided with her corporate connections, like the Koch network, which has been working to starve quality public education for years. Not only has DeVos continuously awarded millions of dollars every year to charter schools, but she also used emergency COVID-19 relief money to fund charter schools, which overall have not suffered as much as public schools during the pandemic.
Ended Protections: In the past four years, DeVos eliminated Obama-era guidances that protected transgender students as well as students of color, including in higher ed, leaving these already vulnerable populations more at risk than before. DeVos wrote new regulations around Title IX, making it more difficult for students who had been sexually assaulted or harassed to obtain justice.
Ignoring Debt Relief: One of DeVos’s major legacies will be her gutting of protections for students around debt. While the previous administration cracked down on predatory, for-profit schools and allowed students a chance to start over unencumbered, DeVos’s Education Department slowed down on reviewing these cases and added a whole host of new roadblocks.
Betsy DeVos is proof positive of what happens when a Koch network operative is placed in a position of power in any of our institutions. Whether in higher education, our judiciary, or federal leadership, the material outcomes are often the same: destabilization, disinformation, and increased corporatization and privatization.
While the masses suffer amid a pandemic, climate disaster, systemic racism, economic injustice, and more, the Koch network has continued their strategy to radically transform our democracy by capturing institutions of education and our federal government.
As American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has said, we must send off DeVos with a “good riddance,” and look ahead to much needed change to come.