Charter school advocate, billionaire and Republican Betsy DeVos was nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to lead the U.S. Department of Education.
“Under her leadership we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver word-class education and school choice to all families,” Trump said during last week’s announcement.
However, Ron Whitehorne, part of the 215 People’s Alliance, a multi-racial collaborative dedicated to fighting for equity and justice in Philadelphia, called the the appointment a major setback for the struggle of equal education for all children, especially since DeVos has no experience in public education and believes in vouchers and expanding charter schools.
“She is a spokesperson for a false ‘school choice’ narrative that offers a good education for the lucky few that have a winning lottery ticket while leaving the overwhelming majority of children in high poverty communities in chronically under funded, under resourced neighborhood public schools,” Whitehorne told The Tribune. “What is needed is a massive federal and state investment in public education that will allow schools in cities like Philadelphia to achieve educational equity with the surrounding affluent suburbs.”
The 58-year-old DeVos is a native of Michigan, where she attended a Christian high school and had chaired the state’s Republican Party. She leads the American Federation for Children (AFC), which has supported pro-school choice candidates in elections.
AFC Vice-Chairman John F. Kirtley said for more than 20 years DeVos has fought for the rights of every child, especially the disadvantaged, to receive a quality education of their parents’ choice, and has shown “passion, commitment and leadership to the school-choice movement.”
City Council member Helen Gym, an advocate for Philadelphia’s public schools, also criticized Trump’s pick. Gym credits the dismantling of Detroit’s public schools to DeVos.
“Her policies don’t produce better schools or better outcomes, but they do disrupt and undermine communities,” Gym said in a release. “I find it surprising that DeVos, who is so well-suited to backroom dealing and the corrupting influence of dark money politics, would seek out public office and the scrutiny that accompanies it.”
Furthermore, Gym noted Philadelphia has fought back and has been winning against the ideologues DeVos represents.
“This will be a fight that Philadelphians must be prepared to lead,” she added.
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said both Trump and DeVos are out of touch with what works best for students, educators, parents and communities.
“(DeVos) has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers — which take away funding and local control from out public schools — to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense,” said Garcia, who heads an organization that represents over 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher ed faculty, administrators, support staff and students who want to become teachers. “She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education.”
But the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), a national non-profit advocacy group led by prominent African-American educators who supports parental choice policies, was thrilled with Trump’s decision.
“Betsy is a very gifted and well-respected education leader with a proven track record of advancing excellence and equity for students,” said Jacqueline Cooper, the president of the BAEO. “She has been a strong champion for parental choice, ensuring that all children, regardless of race or economic status, have access to excellent schools. We have no doubt she will make a great education secretary.
“BAEO congratulates Betsy on her nomination,” she added.
The School District of Philadelphia, long and chronically underfunded, experienced the closing of 28 schools in 2013. As the eighth largest district in the nation, it has approximately 100 charter schools — more than 20 of which are currently part of the District’s Renaissance Schools initiative, targeting schools with low testing performance and that are turned over to charter operators for academic turn-around.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.