Betsy DeVos on Education



States can fund private schools but not parochial schools

Supreme Court delivered a major victory to parents seeking state aid for their children's religious school education. The court's conservative majority ruled 5-4 that states offering scholarships to students in private schools cannot exclude religious schools from such programs.

It was a decision long sought by proponents of school choice and vehemently opposed by teachers' unions, who fear it could drain needed tax dollars from struggling public schools. The Montana supreme court struck down the program, citing the separation of church and state and prompting state officials to deny funds to secular schools as well. Roberts and other conservative justices said the no-aid policy had its roots in 19th-century anti-Catholic sentiment

The Trump administration had sided with the parents. President Donald Trump has long championed prayer in schools, and January's oral argument in the case was attended by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a longtime proponent of religious schools.

Source: USA Today on Espinosa v. Montana, No. 18-1195 , Jun 30, 2020

Mother was public school teacher; Betsy was in-school mentor

DeVos' interest in education was sparked at an early age by her mother, a public school teacher. It grew when she sent her own children to school and was confronted with the reality that not every child in America is granted an equal opportunity to receive a great education. DeVos saw firsthand the work leaders in her hometown were doing to increase educational opportunities for students and choices for parents, and she has been involved in the fight to provide better educational options across the nation ever since.

For 15 years, DeVos served as an in-school mentor for at-risk children in the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Public Schools. Her interactions there with students, families and teachers, according to DeVos, "changed my life and my perspective about education forever." A leader in the movement to empower parents, DeVos has worked to support the creation of new educational choices for students in 25 states and the District of Columbia.

Source: ED.gov official website for Trump Cabinet biographies , Dec 31, 2018

No free money: don't forgive loans from bankrupt colleges

The Department of Education said it will cancel $150 million of student loan debt, impacting about 15,000 people whose schools closed. The Obama-era borrower defense relief program--which essentially ground to a halt under Education Secretary Betsy Devos--provided a path for people to seek forgiveness for federal student loans if a shuttered school violated specific laws or misled students.

DeVos was highly critical of the program, reportedly calling it a "free money" giveaway, and sought to change and delay the program. However, she was sued, and a federal judge ruled in September the program needed to "go into effect."

Those eligible for loan forgiveness must have been enrolled at the school when it closed and not enrolled at another Title-IV school within three years of the previous school's closing.

So far, about 15,000 people have been flagged by the Education Department as eligible. About $80 million of the $150 million debt is attributed to the now-defunct Corinthian schools.

Source: Fox News on 2018 Trump Administration, "$150M student debt" , Dec 15, 2018

Schools need equal opportunities, not affirmative action

Senate Democrats sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos criticizing and demanding answers on affirmative action guidance that was rescinded by Sessions last month:

"While the law is clear and unchanged--that diversity is a compelling government interest that permits race conscious admission--retracting this guidance will make it more challenging for school districts and colleges to understand your Departments' enforcement of the law to ensure the institution is in compliance," the 21 senators wrote.

An Education Department press secretary responded in a statement without directly addressing the senators' questions: "As the Secretary has said, the Supreme Court has determined what affirmative action policies are Constitutional, and the Court's written decisions are the best guide for navigating this complex issue," Hill said. "Schools should continue to offer equal opportunities for all students while abiding by the law."

Source: WAAY-TV ABC-31 on 2018 Trump Administration , Aug 7, 2018

Use federal funds for private schools for military kids

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called for allowing military families to use federal funds to pay for private school or other educational services for their children. DeVos said that many active-duty military families living in bases were dissatisfied with their neighborhood schools and that was affecting their career decisions.˙
Source: Military Times , "Military children," on Trump Cabinet , Feb 22, 2018

Obama campus sexual assault standard was ineffective mandate

The Trump administration scrapped Obama-era guidance on investigating campus sexual assault. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said that President Barack Obama's policy had been unfairly skewed against those accused of assault and had "weaponized" the Education Department to "work against schools and against students." Women's rights groups slammed the decision, saying it will discourage students from reporting assault.

"One sexual assault is one too many. It is horrible and lamentable," DeVos said. "But the current failed system didn't work for students, it didn't work for institutions, it didn't work for anyone," she said in explaining the decision. "It didn't work because unelected and unaccountable political appointees pushed the guidance through without any period for comment from those who walk side by side with students every day. The time of ineffective and inefficient mandates is over."

Source: Seattle Times' Maria Danilova on 2018 Trump Administration , Sep 22, 2017

OpEd: Kids never attended public schools

Trump's choice for the head of the Department of Education took a similar approach to regulatory oversight [as EPA head Scott Pruitt took with the EPA]--with the added bonus that she used her multibillion-dollar fortune to support efforts to undermine public schools in her home state of Michigan. Betsy DeVos has long supported initiatives that allow for-profit schools to soak up tax dollars while fighting off bipartisan efforts to raise standards for public schools. She and her family donated a small chunk of their fortune, $1.47 million, to an organization that seeks to cripple the Detroit Public Schools. Neither billionaire DeVos nor her children ever attended a public school, but that did not shake her confidence that her notions of privatizing public education would work just fine for everyone else's families.
Source: This Fight is Our Fight, by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, p. 245 , Apr 18, 2017

Contributes to education to advance "God's Kingdom"

In a˙2001 interview˙for The Gathering, a group focused on advancing Christian faith through philanthropy, DeVos offered a glimpse of their views. Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving--rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers--Betsy DeVos replied, "There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education.Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God's kingdom."
Source: Mother Jones, "God's Kingdom", on Trump Cabinet , Apr 1, 2017

Federally-funded vouchers for public or private schools

Betsy DeVos is a longtime advocate of charter schools, and oversees the Alliance for School Choice. In 2013 she said: "I'm most focused on educational choice. But, thinking more broadly, what we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the zip code of their family's home. We advocate instead for as much freedom as possible."

Throughout her time as an education activist, DeVos has been a proponent of school vouchers, which redirect the state per-pupil education funding, giving it directly to individual families instead of school districts. Families can then select the public or private schools of their choice and have all or part of the tuition paid by the government. Of vouchers, DeVos said, "I would hope I could convince you all of the merit of that in maybe some future legislation."

Source: Ballotpedia.org's "The Tap" on 2017 Trump transition , Jan 18, 2017

Nothing is free; someone has to pay for "free tuition"

DeVos addressed the rising costs of college: "Escalating tuition is pricing aspiring and talented students out of college. Others are burdened with debts that will take years to pay off. There is no magic wand to make the debt go away, but we do need to take action. It would be a mistake to shift that burden to struggling taxpayers without first addressing why tuition has gotten so high. For starters, we need to embrace new pathways of learning. For too long a college degree has been pushed as the only avenue for a better life. Craftsmanship is not a fallback--but a noble pursuit."

When questioned by Bernie Sanders (D-VT) on making public colleges tuition free, DeVos said, "That's a really interesting idea. But we also have to consider the fact that there's nothing in life that is truly free. Somebody's going to pay for it. I think we can work together and we can work hard on making sure that college or higher education in some form is affordable for all young people that want to pursue it."

Source: Ballotpedia.org: 2017 Trump transition confirmation hearings , Jan 18, 2017

No longer believe in one-size-fits-all model of learning

BETSY DeVOS: Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning meets the needs of every child. And they know other options exist, whether magnet, virtual, charter, home, faith-based or any other combination.

Sen. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): Can you commit to us tonight that you will not work to privatize public schools or cut a single penny from public education?

DeVOS: I look forward to working with you to talk about how we address the needs of all parents and all students. And we acknowledge today that not all schools are working for the students that are assigned to them. And I'm hopeful that we can work together to find common ground and ways that we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them.

MURRAY: I take that as not being willing to commit to not privatizing public schools or cutting money from education?

DeVOS: I guess I wouldn't characterize it in that way.

Source: 2017 Trump transition: Education Secy. Confirmation Hearings , Jan 17, 2017

250,000 students in 33 voucher programs, and growing

Q: It's been more than 50 years since Milton Friedman wrote "The Role of Government in Education," which made the first principled case for school choice. It's coming up on 25 years since Wisconsin instituted the nation's first private-school voucher program in Milwaukee. So, how do you feel about progress to date?

DEVOS: Well, I've never been more optimistic. Today there are about 250,000 students in 33 publicly funded, private-choice programs in 17 states and the District of Columbia. The movement's growth is accelerating. Within the last year, the number of students in educational-choice programs grew by about 40,000. In 2012, we saw new programs in LA, PA, VA, and NH, and expanded programs in AZ, FL, LA, and OH. In 2011, Indiana passed a major new statewide voucher program, which is only in its second academic year and is already enrolling nearly 10,000 children. We conducted polling in 5 states, and found educational choice enjoyed enormous popularity, especially among Latinos.

Source: Philanthropy magazine interview for 2017 Trump transition , Apr 1, 2013

Got 5,000 voucher students enrolled in Louisiana in one week

PHILANTHROPY: What works at the grassroots level for school vouchers?

DEVOS: I don't want to get too deep into the weeds, but here's an episode that may be revealing. Back in 2008, in Louisiana, the state's Department of Education was clearly opposed to implementing the new pilot voucher program that had been created by Gov. Jindal and a bipartisan coalition of legislators to help children trapped in failing schools in New Orleans. The department at that time seemed to put up as many roadblocks as possible. They gave parents one week--one week!--to sign up for the program. We had to work fast to come up with creative ways to alert parents of the new program. We did everything we could to engage and inform parents about the voucher opportunity. We bought ad time on urban radio stations. We bought billboards and web ads, did mailings and phone calls. We worked with various parish churches. It was all grassroots work. It can look like tedious work, but we got 5,000 children enrolled.

Source: Philanthropy magazine interview for 2017 Trump transition , Apr 1, 2013

Charters fulfill a different choice & supplement vouchers

PHILANTHROPY: What about charter schools instead of voucher-based school choice?

DEVOS: Charter schools are another choice--a very valid choice. As we work to help provide parents with more educational choices, it is always with the assumption that charter schools are part of the equation. We think of the educational choice movement as involving many parts: vouchers and tax credits, certainly, but also virtual schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and charter schools.

PHILANTHROPY: Do you worry that the relative popularity of charter schools is endangering the rest of your reform agenda? These days, it's fairly safe to voice support for charter schools. Does that diminish the appeal of other reforms, like vouchers and tax credits?

DEVOS: Charter schools take a while to start up and get operating. Believe me, I know, because we started one. Meanwhile, there are very good non-public schools, hanging on by a shoestring, that can begin taking students today.

Source: Philanthropy magazine interview for 2017 Trump transition , Apr 1, 2013

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Page last updated: Oct 10, 2020