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Est. April 5, 2002

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In its first eight days, the Biden-Harris administration has moved quickly to undo some of the damage inflicted by the Trump administration upon the nation in its mishandling of the pandemic crisis, assaults on civil rights and racial justice, and a host of other civil and governmental institutions. But no societal foundation has suffered more than K-12 public education at the hands of Trump’s one woman wrecking crew, Department of Education (DOE) Secretary, Betsy DeVos.

As a private citizen, prior to taking the reins of the department, she used her personal fortune as a billionaire to implement her belief that private, religious, and charter schools are the best methods of educating our nation’s children. She strategically deployed her wealth to fund local, state, and federal elected officials to carry out her agenda.

Using the state of Michigan as her base of operations, she established educational non-profits and political action committees to advance attacks against public education throughout the nation and become the leading female member of the informal corporate Cartel of Advocates and Funders for the Privatization of Public Education.

She has worked with the Koch Bros. (now just Charles Koch since the death of his brother, David), Eli Broad, Suzy Walton and the Walton Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, and the Gates Foundation on charter schools, vouchers, and teacher evaluation. At the national level, she collected an array of Democratic and Republican elected officials in the House and Senate.

Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tim Scott (R-SC), two African Americans, carried her privatization water on key Senate committees, and she funded a bevy of majority and minority Democrats and Republicans in the House to advance her programs for private and religious schools. It was out of that background that she came to know Donald Trump, who further empowered her to do with a federal budget what she had been doing for years with her own wealth.

With surgeon-like precision, she carefully examined every DOE budget line and other government programs and directed funding away from K-12 public education. When the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the country, she took full advantage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which allocated $13.2 billion for K-12 education.

These funds were earmarked for distribution across the nation’s 100,000 public schools, 7,000 charter schools, and many private schools based on the number of low-income students they enrolled. But DeVos went further and demanded that states share that money with middle-income students as well. After several states and civil rights organizations sued her, she recanted and followed the rules outlined.

Not giving up easily, DeVos worked with Trump’s economic team to raid the CARES Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for which public schools were ineligible. She encouraged private, charter, and religious schools, along with their lobbyists, to apply for PPP as nonprofits. As a result, they received hundreds of millions of dollars to fatten their coffers.

Although Biden has promised substantially more money for the nation’s poor children in public schools, the coronavirus pandemic and the remnants of the Race To The Top (RTTT) legislation - which exponentially increased the number of charter schools - that he championed during the Obama-Biden administration will continue to undermine such efforts.

Most troubling is that he has also committed to reopening schools as soon as possible and has appointed Connecticut’s education commissioner Dr. Miguel Cardona, whose calling card is that he was aggressive and successful in reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, as his Education Secretary. That will not be enough to address the urgent needs of the nation’s poorest students.

Even if Cardona reopens schools and stanches the flow of public school dollars to private, religious, and charter schools, he has not grasped or formulated a response to the most urgent difficulties facing public schools today. The lack of access to remote learning among the poorest students, who have mushroomed in number during the pandemic, is a challenge that has not yet effectively been dealt with.

As previously noted, lead poisoning remains a largely hidden problem in urban communities and is worsening at a rapid rate in decaying older cities where poor children in families of color remain disproportionately huddled in rental properties that have residuals of lead-based paint and who drink from lead-infected lateral lines which deliver water to their homes.

Since March of 2020, children with special needs (those on the autism spectrum, those with cognitive and/or emotional dysfunction, and those with learning disabilities, etc.) have been left largely bereft of quality educational services, and the mental health needs of low-income students, who have historically been underserved, remain unmet.

Even more disturbing is that subsequent education appointments by the Biden-Harris team do not appear to be attentive to the aforementioned issues. In the wake of Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond’s withdrawal from consideration as DOE Secretary, no one with her comprehensive skill set of teacher advocacy, research understandings of problems facing our contemporary low-income majority-minority public school student population, and education policy analyses, has emerged.

Public education is at a crossroads as it grapples with the most urgent problems confronting K-12 education, and it is not at all clear that the Biden-Harris administration has charted a path for success in the post-DeVos era. 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 and BC.

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