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What Can Educators Expect from a Trump Presidency?

Content reform

Within the past several weeks, the President-Elect has made some interesting cabinet appointments. An oil executive for Secretary of State, a brain surgeon for Housing and Urban Development, and a Senator who was once denied a federal judgeship as his Attorney General.

One of the most controversial picks is his new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos

Retrieved from: LadiesofLiberty.org

Not long after Trump’s announcement of this pick, a meme appeared on Facebook:

A Mixed Reaction

Conservatives, who have long advocated for “school choice,” specifically by means of providing parents with vouchers to then pick the school of their choice, love this pick. Mrs. DeVos is a strong advocate of charter schools and vouchers for K-12 students.

The NEA (National Education Association), in its latest issue of Education Votes, criticizes Trump’s choice for several reasons, not the least of which is that Mrs. DeVos has a long-standing record of promoting public funding for religious (i.e., Christian schools), supports an anti-LGBT agenda, and believes in privatizing K-12 education through a voucher system.

The Facts About Betty DeVos

Taking the meme above, let’s look first at the claims made.

  1. A billionaire: Yes, she and her husband are billionaires and strong supporters of the Republican Party in Michigan. Her husband is the heir to the Amway fortune, estimated at about $6 billion. She herself is the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. They also own a technology investment firm.
  2. Donated $9.5 million to the Trump campaign: No. they donated about that much to Republican Party candidates at all levels, including the Trump campaign.
  3. Background in Education: DeVos does not hold a degree in education, she did not attend public school and none of her children have attended public schools. She graduated from a private Christian school and from Calvin Coolidge College, a Christian college in Michigan.
  4. Does not Believe in Public Schools: DeVos has long been an advocate of a school voucher system, which would divest tax money from public schools and funnel it to private and religious-affiliated schools, as well as to for-profit charter schools. She has advocated this in Michigan for years.
  5. Believes public school teachers are overpaid: She has never said this, although she believes that teachers’ unions have placed a strangle-hold on public education.
  6. Donations to Christian Schools and Organizations: Yes, she and her husband have made large donations to Christian Schools and Christian organizations, such as Focus on the Family, an organization that is virulently anti-LGBT.

What Does All of this Mean for Public Education?

DeVos is certainly an unusual pick for Secretary of Education, a position that does not just oversee K-12 public education, but, as well, the administration of the student loan program, the equal protection of all children who attend public schools, and advocacy for education of children with disabilities. Without any professional educational background and without any experience with the public school system in America, she will have a lot of “studying up” to do. It is fair to say, however, that educators can expect the following:

  1. There will probably be a bit of a fight in the Senate on her confirmation. Leading Democrats are already voicing concerns about funneling tax money to private and parochial schools as a breach of separation of church and state.
  2. With a Republican-controlled House and Senate, movement toward a voucher system will increase. And the President-Elect has already stated his support for such movement. Whatever legislation that may pass, however, will probably open the doors for individual states to implement voucher systems more than they do so now, rather than be any type of mandate to do so.
  3. At the state level, the “devil will be in the details.” Providing vouchers across the board of equal amounts to all families could have the effect of widening the gap in education that already exists in public school systems. Families with means will add to those vouchers and place their children in the best schools they can find. Families without means will have difficulty doing so, not to mention figuring out transportation of their children to these private schools.
  4. For-profit charter schools will be on the rise, again funneling tax money out of the public school system, as states pay those schools a specific amount for each enrolled student. The verdict on charter schools so far is quite mixed. There have been many failures, and the trend under the new Secretary may be to reduce regulations and oversight even more. The same holds true for voucher systems – the results in terms of higher student achievement are also mixed.
  5. There is concern on the part of special educators for educational quality for students with disabilities. If private and charter schools are not obligated to serve these children, how will they receive the “most appropriate education to meet their needs,” as public Law 94-142 states? Currently, there is significant funding for special education services from the federal government, but Republicans want to shrink the Department of Education budget significantly.

As Rabbi Jack Moline, President of the Interfaith Alliance, recently stated:

“Americans are always free to send their children to private schools and religious schools, but raiding the public treasury to subsidize private businesses and religious organizations runs against the public trust and the Constitution.”

Be Prepared

Whether Betsy DeVos wins Senate approval or not (and this author believes she likely will), a battle is brewing over education – one that will take place at the local, state, and national levels. Educators of all “stripes” will need to be prepared to take part in the political process, perhaps more than they ever have before.