January 2017 Issue
February 01, 2017

The DeVos disaster

Source: NYSUT United

Privatize public education? Turn a profit on the backs of our students? We say: No way, no how. We will fight back.

NYSUT President Karen E. Magee has said Betsy DeVos would "devastate" America's public education system should she become the nation's next secretary of education.

Based on the experience of those who've personally worked with the billionaire DeVos back in her home state of Michigan, no one should mistake Magee's claim as hyperbole.

As NYSUT United went to press, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions was preparing to vote on DeVos' nomination. Should DeVos be confirmed by the full Senate, the U.S. Department of Education could then be led by someone who is likely to focus on advancing right-wing ideology rather than enhancing student achievement, said John Austin, outgoing president of Michigan's State Board of Education.

During a recent appearance in Albany, Austin characterized DeVos — the former longtime chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party — as a deep-pocketed partisan intent on using her immense wealth to diminish the public education system and replace it with a private, for-profit alternative.

Austin noted how DeVos used her influence and wealth to defeat legislative attempts to regulate charter schools in the Wolverine State, leading to an explosion of publicly funded, for-profit schools operating without oversight or accountability. As a result, student achievement in Michigan "plummeted," he said.

"It's not about educating children," Austin said of DeVos. "It's about creating a parallel, for-profit marketplace."

Wytice Harris, a parent with two children in Detroit's public school system and an organizer with the city's public education advocacy group, 482Forward, agreed.

Appearing with Austin, Harris said DeVos' modus operandi is to "systematically defund public schools so that charters look like the better option." And if history is any indication, DeVos will oppose all attempts to impose any regulations or oversight on charter management, Harris said.

Austin and Harris spoke to edu-cators and lawmakers in Albany in mid-January at the invitation of United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. Mulgrew warned that DeVos, singlehandedly, has the ability to outspend entire organizations and is already using her money in New York State to influence education policy.

The vast reach of DeVos' contributions is well known. In all, she and her family have given $4 million to Republicans in the U.S. Senate, according to the Center for American Progress. Though that figure dates back to 1980, the center reported that more than $3 million was donated in the 2016 election cycle. That includes more than $950,000 to 21 senators who will likely have the opportunity to vote on her confirmation, the CAP reported. Five members of the senate committee that oversaw her confirmation hearing are among the recipients.

— Matt Smith

Let your voice be heard

Should Betsy DeVos, or any privateer, become the nation's next education secretary, we will need every member's voice to counter policies that will harm students and educators.

  • Go to NYSUT's Member Action Center and take action at mac.nysut.org!