Six Reasons To Oppose Betsy DeVos As Secretary Of Education

It is hard to imagine a worse choice than Betsy DeVos. Make sure your Senator hears that, many times.
01/14/2017 09:16 am ET Updated Jan 15, 2018
Betsy DeVos, picked by US President-elect Donald Trump for education secretary, speaks during the USA Thank You Tour December
Betsy DeVos, picked by US President-elect Donald Trump for education secretary, speaks during the USA Thank You Tour December 9, 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. / AFP / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

Senate hearings on Herr Trump's cabinet picks are coming up soon, and you should be calling your Senator. Regardless of your political leanings, there are many good reasons for opposing Betsy DeVos as a Secretary of Education.

1) No experience with public education.

This is not like appointing someone to the post of Attorney General who is not a lawyer -- this is like appointing someone Attorney General who has never been to court. DeVos grew up in private school, sent her kids to private school, and has spent her adult life advocating for private schools. She has literally no first hand knowledge of how the public education system works, for better or worse. As Senator Elizabeth Warren put it in her letter to DeVos:

There is no precedent for an Education Department Secretary nominee with your lack of experience in public education. While past nominees for Secretary of Education have served as teachers, school system leaders, and governors, and came to the Department of Education with deep executive experience in public education, you have held no such position.

2) No organizational experience.

DeVos's experience is strictly in philanthropic advocacy, a sort of checkbook lobbying that has never required her to work with people with whom she disagrees. As Secretary of Education, she will need to work with governors, congresspersons, and the sprawling USED staff, many of whom are going to disagree with her in matters of policy and philosophy. As a philanthropic advocate, she has been able to surround herself with people who are like-minded and/or beholden to her. That would not be her situation as Secretary; she would have to build coalitions, reach compromise, earn trust and cooperation, and all without the use of her checkbook-- she cannot simply threaten her way to compliance as she has in Michigan. One of the great criticisms of Arne Duncan was that he could not play well with Congress, instead insisting on dictating as if he were The Boss. Everything in DeVos's background, including her dismissal of both political parties as failures, suggests that she would be even worse.

3) No administrative experience.

DeVos has never run an organization or corporation close to the size of the Department of Education. The department has 5,000 employees and oversees a budget of around $73 billion. Windquest, the energy investment she runs with her husband, has ten employees with revenue around $15 million.Her husband helped fund the 2012 Broadway production Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, which closed after twenty-nine days. She was chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party for four years, and she has been a successful fund-raiser for many GOP candidates, as witnessed by her group American Federation for Children, a group that exists primarily as a funnel for dark money.  But she has never run a company and never managed a business. Given her belief that "government sucks," it seems unlikely that she will be a quick study in how to manage a sprawling government department -- particularly if she has manage some combination of holdovers from previous administrations and newbies just learning the ropes.

4) Vouchers are bad news for everybody.

Whether we are talking about the traditional school vouchers that DeVos has long advocated for, or newer Education Savings Accounts, there is much for both the left and the right to fear. For the left, vouchers represent a financial attack on public schools. The first moment vouchers go into effect, before a single child leaves a public school, millions of tax dollars will go out of the public system and into private schools. For the right, vouchers are a trojan horse. Where government money goes, government strings follow. Maybe not today -- but some day, inevitably, every school that accepts federal education money will feel the hand of federal regulation.

5) Nobody voted for Jeb Bush or the Common Core

DeVos is a long-time supporter of Jeb Bush and a partner in his Foundation for Excellence in Education, one of the leading think tanks for Common Core promotion. Nobody was fooled when Candidate Jeb tried to disown the Core, and nobody on either the left or the right should be fooled when DeVos does the same. She would have made a great Bush USED pick, but as you may recall, Jeb Bush didn't win much of anything or anyone in his sad Presidential campaign. We didn't elect Bush or his failed education policies -- why should we get a cabinet pick that is just what he would have wanted?

But now comes word that Allan B. Hubbard is in line to be the #2 man at Education. Hubbard who served in both Bush administrations and has close ties to the Lumina Foundation, an organization that has pushed both Common Core and the use of data mining to track students and workers for the benefit of businesses.

6) Her track record is terrible.

DeVos has used her family's financial muscle to push Detroit schools to try most of her favorite, favored reform ideas, and the result has been a disaster. The big-money reformers have abandoned it, and Doug Harris, who has done extensive research in New Orleans (the other haven for educational disaster capitalism)  where he finds the results of a total charter conversion "impressive" -- that Doug Harris declares DeVosified Detroit an educational disaster area. And while DeVos supporters are trying to paint her as someone interested in holding charter schools accountable for results, a closer look at the law she pushed shows that it creates far more loopholes than accountability requirements. DeVos's educational ideas have been field-tested, and they have failed.

Contact your Senator -- by email, letter, or phone. Make sure they understand that this is a mistake.

Yes, a candidate who had positives in place of DeVos' negatives could still be a terrible Secretary of Education. There is no guarantee that another candidate with better qualifications would not be terrible; however, someone whose qualification deficit is this large is a guaranteed failure.

It is hard to imagine a worse choice than Betsy DeVos. Make sure your Senator hears that, many times.

A version of this post originally appeared at Curmudgucation.