Kids For Sale: Betsy DeVos And The End Of Public Education

The problem with Betsy DeVos is not simply that she has bad ideas or misguided notions about how to strengthen America's public schools, or that her solutions for getting public education in America back on track are different from yours or mine.
01/14/2017 03:29 pm ET Updated Jan 14, 2018

In the through-the-looking glass world that is our new reality, it can be hard to remember that the difference between conservatives and progressives used to be about the means, not about the ends. Once upon a time, we all wanted the same results - safe streets, clean air, good public schools. Our differences were simply in how to get these things done effectively.

How very different things are today. Betsy DeVos is the ultimate case in point, as we show in our latest short film.

The problem with Betsy DeVos is not simply that she has bad ideas or misguided notions about how to strengthen America's public schools, or that her solutions for getting public education in America back on track are different from yours or mine.

The problem is that Betsy DeVos does not believe in public education.

Her entire contribution to education in her home state of Michigan has been toward privatizing it, slapping dollar signs onto our children's foreheads and turning their right to an education into a commodity for sale to the highest bidder.

She has poured money into efforts to shut down public schools in Detroit and funnel the remaining students into for-profit ventures that turned out to be the K-12 versions of schools that advertise on the backs of matchbooks.

It has been nothing short of a goldrush.

The state has nearly 220,000 fewer students than it did in 2003, but more than 100 new charter schools, according to a New York Times investigation.

The majority of these are run by for-profit companies. In 2013-2014 there were 296 charters operating 370 schools in the state and 61 percent of those were run by full-service, for-profit management companies. Another 17 percent were partially run by for profits.

Now it's understandable in some ways that Betsy DeVos believes that money can buy anything. After all, she has no real background in education and yet by spending millions upon millions of dollars she managed to buy an entire state education system and it has worked out very well for her indeed. But the marketplace she created in Michigan simply has not worked for Michigan students. Indeed the results have been abysmal.

Neighborhood schools were dismantled and replaced with schools that are in many cases failing children. Today 10 percent of rising high school seniors in Detroit score as "college ready" on reading tests.

In the 2012 - 2013 school year 38 percent of charter schools received state academic rankings below the 25th percentile - meaning that 75 percent of all the schools in the state performed better. By contrast, only 23 percent traditional public schools fell below the 25th percentile, according to an exhaustive investigation by the Detroit Free Press. Not surprisingly, the New York Times found that the better schools are located in the richer neighborhoods. Despite these failures, DeVos fought for, and won, laws that allow Michigan's charter schools to operate without any oversight or accountability.

All this was done in the name of choice, but the truth is that the students in these districts were left without a single decent option. She set out to prove that the private marketplace could take care of what is an inherently public function. She wound up proving just the opposite. For that, she is being rewarded with an opportunity to do to the United States of America what she did to Michigan: Dismantle public education.