Click to go to the Subscriber Log In Page
Go to menu with buttons for all pages on BC
Click here to go to the Home Page
Est. April 5, 2002
January 19, 2017 - Issue 682

Betsy DeVos’s
Confirmation Hearing
to be
Education Secretary

"She is for guns in schools, vouchers
and corporate charter schools, and
unbridled school choice with no public
oversight.  She and other members of
the education reform Cartel remain
devoted to their belief that the choice
options that they have concocted for
the parents of low-income children, mostly
of color, are best for inner city students."

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Secretary-Designate, publicly revealed and reiterated her strong commitment to the privatization of public education at her confirmation hearing last Tuesday. She is for guns in schools, vouchers and corporate charter schools, and unbridled school choice with no public oversight. She and other members of the education reform Cartel remain devoted to their belief that the choice options that they have concocted for the parents of low-income children, mostly of color, are best for inner city students. It is reminiscent of William K. Coors’s 1984 speech to minority business owners in Denver, Colorado when he stated that blacks lack "intellectual capacity" and "one of the best things slave traders did for you is to drag your ancestors over here in chains." You should to be glad to be “… living in a country with a free enterprise system…”

The Cartel and DeVos have an abiding belief, like that of many wealthy, white conservatives, that they know what is best for African Americans in every sphere of their lives. And they have been able to impose that conviction through: comprehensive and diverse marketing tactics; elected officials they fund and control (and publicly punish when they disobey public school privatization directives); advocacy groups and political action committees (PACs); and an array of grassroots and national minority clergy, political, and professional leaders who are deployed to sell the voucher and corporate charter medicine oil to their ethnic constituencies.

Thus, Betsy DeVos felt entirely comfortable in appearing before the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee and espousing her views, knowing that she already had the Republican members—the committee’s majority—in her pocket due to long-term political contributions. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the committee’s chairman, purposefully limited the time for questioning and scheduled the hearing without DeVos’s ethics statement being completed. Given that she and her family have made upwards of a billion dollars in contributions to local, state, and federal politicians and educational advocacy groups for public school privatization, it is no wonder that she had no fear of the HELP committee because she essentially owns it.

DeVos used her time, during this interim period, as she is virtually assured of being approved to be U.S. Education Secretary, to develop her agenda to revamp the nation’s system of public education and to increase the number of voucher and corporate charter schools:

  • Caucused with North Carolina’s Art Pope, a fellow Cartel member, to lay out plans to replicate his strategy to quickly establish regular and special needs voucher schools and expand corporate charters in those states that Republicans now control and the others where Democratic elected officials have taken DeVos and Cartel money;

  • Designed plans to increase the number of Achievement Districts (where charter school companies are allowed to take over low-performing public schools);

  • Developed approaches to place more pro-privatization proponents as state superintendents/ commissioners over state education departments who will coordinate with her office to rapidly spread school choice across the nation; and

  • Expanded techniques to open up the financial flood gates of public education to education reform Cartel members.

Meanwhile, Bill Gates, a leading Cartel Member, after meeting with President-Elect Donald Trump, compared him to the late President John F. Kennedy in terms of the innovation he will bring to K-12 education, sending a strong signal of his support for Trump’s proposal to allocate $20 billion for the establishment of more voucher and charter schools.

At the same time, Trump summoned a number of African American celebrities and sports figures to Trump Tower, in a modern-day minstrel show, to enlist them in facilitating his vision for the educational uplift of the black community: Kanye West, who came to the meeting after his release from a hospital psychiatric ward; Ray Lewis, former NFL player; and Steve Harvey, a comedian, who has recently made racially insensitive jokes about the slavery of African Americans and about Asian men, the latter to whom he was forced to offer an apology. All three have little knowledge and experience in K-12 education other than having attended public schools.

All will be overseen by Omarosa Manigault, who worked as Trump’s director of African American outreach during the campaign season, and who Trump recently appointed as his director of community engagement. She has stated that all who did not support the Trump presidential candidacy will now have “… to bow down” once he takes office.

Elsewhere, Pearson Education, arguably the most profitable education services and products provider in the world, is on standby waiting for DeVos to assume the helm of the U.S. Education Department. The company made billions off President Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and President Obama’s Race to the Top (RTTT) via books, testing materials, and assessments. In addition, Pearson also ate heartily at the public education troughs in those states where DeVos’s money had aided in clearing the path for substantial increases in voucher and corporate charter schools. There are also thousands of local, regional, and national corporations waiting to be fed as well.

Therefore, Betsy DeVos had little reason to devote significant time to preparing to testify before the HELP committee for her confirmation. She concluded, and rightfully so, that she had already done that by purchasing the majority of the committee members’ votes as well as that of the chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, who was recently awarded the Friend of Education Award by the National Education Association (NEA). Moreover, she was introduced by former four-term Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) whom she has supported for years and was instrumental in his hotly contested reelection in 2007 (along with then Newark Mayor Cory Booker) when he had to run as an Independent after losing the Democratic primary.

Sen. Lieberman enjoyed the strong support of education unions and other public education stakeholders throughout his political career and was able to survive the scrutiny of the Congressional Black Caucus, when it questioned his support of vouchers, after Al Gore selected him to run as his Vice President on the Democratic ticket in 2000. To be successful, public education backers will have to practice politics as the “blood sport” that it is as DeVos has done throughout her thirty-year crusade to privatize public schools and to tilt them toward religious control. In Michigan, ex-politicians who defied her school privatization ideas have been politically executed as examples to their remaining colleagues.

Betsy DeVos has played and continues to play hardball as she did with the steel fist in a velvet glove at her confirmation hearing on Tuesday. My bet is that she will be comfortably confirmed with both Republican and Democratic votes—unless the public education lobby does something different which it has not demonstrated it is able to do.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion by Jamala Rogers