Thursday, November 24, 2016

Trump picks school choice advocate as education head

The Washington Post reports that Trump picks billionaire Betsy DeVos, school voucher advocate, as education secretary.

The good news is that Trump did not pick Jerry Falwell. The bad news is that he picked DeVos, “a conservative activist and billionaire philanthropist who has pushed forcefully for private school voucher programs nationwide.” (NPR reported yesterday morning that DeVos’ children attended private Christian schools.)

Trump’s pick underlines his promises on the campaign trail to put “school choice” — the expansion of taxpayer-funded charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools — at the center of his efforts on education.

Betsy DeVos serves as chairman of the American Federation of Children and its associated 527 action fund, a platform she has used to support candidates who endorse vouchers and charter schools — and to attack candidates who don’t.

While hers is hardly a household name, she has helped change the landscape of education across the country. Three decades ago, there were no state voucher programs. Now, according to the advocacy group EdChoice, about 400,000 children in 29 states are going to private schools with the help of public dollars, some via vouchers and others through derivative programs, such as tax-credit scholarships or education savings accounts.

DeVos is working toward a scenario in which “all parents, regardless of their Zip code, have had the opportunity to choose the best educational setting for their children,” she told Philanthropy magazine in 2013. “And that all students have had the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential.”

Education associations were quick to respond.

Lily Eskelsen GarcĂ­a, president of the National Education Association, said that DeVos has “consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education.”

“In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America,” said Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers.

Vouchers … send money to religious schools, a fact that has provoked not just political resistance but also a series of legal challenges in state courts. Vouchers and tax credits “force all Americans to pay for religion, whether they believe in that faith or not. That’s fundamentally wrong,” Barry Lynn, executive director for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said in 2010.

More on the DeVos family

DeVos and her husband are major GOP donors who, during the 2016 cycle, gave a total of $2.7 million to the GOP and to Republican candidates and political action committees; they made no donations to Democrats, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

DeVos’s brother is Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, one of the most profitable private security firms during the Iraq War. Blackwater came under intense scrutiny after the company’s guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007; four guards were convicted on charges related to the massacre. Prince has since left the company, which is now called Academi.

Update: That was the tame version. Here’s a link to the more caustic appraisal at alternet.org of DeVos and her school choice (aka money laundering) connections and pursuits.

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