Betsy DeVos, pictured with President-Elect Donald Trump, has used her family’s fortune to push for school vouchers, charter schools, therapy for gays. And, she has a decided antipathy to public schools. She will be the new Secretary of Education under Trump.
By Howard Schwach
Commentary from onrockaway.com
Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, has spent her entire life and her family fortune on destroying public education and monetizing education for the benefit of her billionaire friends. She has also spent millions on denigrating gays and transgender citizens while trying to defeat same-sex marriage.
That sounds like hyperbole, but it is not. It is fact.
I have often written that public education is the touchstone of our democracy. If kids or all races and religions are not brought together for their school years, they will never understand each other and democracy will suffer.
There is a broad consensus in America that public schools must be protected, despite the fact that many are struggling to fulfill their core mission of educating all children.
Perhaps Trump and DeVos don’t understand that mission. After all none of their kids ever went to public schools. Why would they want their kids going to school with “them?”
Look at DeVos’ record.
In 2000, DeVos and her husband bankrolled a multimillion-dollar ballot initiative to create school vouchers in Michigan. When voters overwhelmingly voted against the initiative, which would have taken money from public schools and given it instead to parents who could have used it for tuition to parochial schools, segregated schools, racist schools, or any other school they wanted to send their kids to.
When the initiative failed, they couple began to pour their millions into for-profit charter schools run by their billionaire hedge fund manager friends.
Published reports called Michigan the “wild west of charter schools” when many closed without warning and others failed to educate their students.
Last spring, DeVos and her husband poured more money into defeating a bill that would have provided oversight of the state’s charter schools.
The editorial board of the Detroit Free Press called the move “a filthy, moneyed kiss to the charter school industry at the expense of kids who’ve been victimized by those schools’ unaccountable inconsistency.”
In addition, her family has funded campaigns against marriage equality and has pushed for so-called gay therapy efforts.
Recently, DeVos wrote in the Capital Hill newspaper, Roll Call, that her family is the largest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee and that she has “decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now, I simply concede the point … We do expect something in return.”
Trump has long pushed for school vouchers, something that many believe will destabilize public schools and therefore destabilize democracy.
The choice of DeVos flies in the face of Trump’s contention that he is going to “drain the swamp” of million dollar donors making legislative decisions in Congress.
It would be hard to find a better representative of the “donor class” than DeVos, whose family has been allied with Charles and David Koch for years. Betsy, her husband Richard, Jr. (Dick), and her father-in-law, Richard, Sr., whose fortune was estimated by Forbes to be worth $5.1 billion, have turned up repeatedly on lists of attendees at the Kochs’ donor summits, and as contributors to the brothers’ political ventures.
In 2010, Charles Koch described Richard DeVos, Sr., as one of thirty-two “great partners” who had contributed a million dollars or more to the tens of millions of dollars that the Kochs planned to spend in that year’s campaign cycle.
While the DeVoses are less well known than the Kochs, they have played a similar role in bankrolling the rightward march of the Republican Party. Starting in 1970, the DeVos family, which is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, began directing at least two hundred million dollars into funding what was then called “The New Right.” The family supported conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation; academic organizations such as the Collegiate Studies Institute, which funded conservative publications on college campuses; and the secretive Council on National Policy, which the Times called “a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country.” The Council’s membership list, which was kept secret, included leaders of the Christian right, such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Phyllis Schlafly, and anti-tax and pro-gun groups. Richard DeVos, Sr., liked to say that it brought together “the doers and the donors.”
In 1980, the DeVos family contributed heavily to the election of Ronald Reagan, and DeVos, Sr., was named the finance chair of the Republican National Committee. Two years later, he was removed, after calling the brutal 1982 recession a “cleansing process,” and insisting that anyone who was unemployed simply didn’t want to work.
That same year, DeVos and his Amway co-founder, Jay Van Andel, were charged with criminal tax fraud in Canada. Eventually, Amway pleaded guilty and paid fines of twenty-five million dollars, and the criminal charges against DeVos and his partner were dropped. Despite these incidents, the DeVos clan remained a major political force. “There’s not a Republican president or presidential candidate in the last fifty years who hasn’t known the DeVoses,” said Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.