On Tuesday, Feb. 7, Elisabeth “Betsy” DeVos was appointed as the 11th United States Secretary of Education. DeVos was confirmed by a 50-51 margin, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie in favor of DeVos. DeVos is the first cabinet nominee confirmed with a tie vote in Senate history.
On Wednesday, Nov. 23, Trump announced that he would nominate DeVos to serve as his Secretary of Education.
“Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said in a statement, according to National Public Radio.
He added that she would have the leadership ability to “break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and multiple school choices to all families.”
DeVos, 58, is a member of the Republican Party and a former Republican National Committeewoman for Michigan from 1992 to 1997.
She became the chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party in 1996 and was re-elected for that position in 2003.
DeVos is best known for working to privatize education in Michigan.
According to the Atlantic, DeVos’s family donated $1.45 million in an effort to prevent Michigan from adding oversight for charter schools. The Obama administration and civil rights groups such as the NAACP have expressed concern that DeVos’s preference for lack of oversight would negatively impact low-income children and children of color.
DeVos also serves on the board of Foundation for Excellence in Education and works with Kids Hope USA, an organization that connects adult mentors in local churches with at risk elementary students, according to DeVos’ website.
One of DeVos’s more controversial stances is on the policy of school choice, which gives public money to parents in the form of vouchers so that they can spend it on private school.
“Let the education dollars follow each child, instead of forcing the child to follow the dollars,” said DeVos during a 2015 speech at SXSWedu in Austin, Texas. “This is pretty straightforward. And it’s how you go from a closed system to an open system that encourages innovation. People deserve choices and option.”
In the same speech, DeVos described public education as a “dead end.” Protests against DeVos have spread throughout the country, alleging that her views on federal funding towards voucher programs and charter schools would weaken the public education system.
“The anti-DeVos outcry is well-deserved,” said Curry Malott, assistant professor and newest faculty member in Professional and Secondary Education at WCU. “DeVos, a likely co-author of Trump’s proposal to divert $20 billion to not only for-profit charter schools, but private religious schools as well.”
DeVos has faced vocal opposition from parents, educators and activists, accusing her of seeking to benefit private Christian schools. The New York Times reported that DeVos addressed a meeting of Christian philanthropists in 2001 and described education reform as a way to “advance God’s kingdom.”
“DeVos’s nearly 3-decade-long self-described ‘war’ to advance the ‘Kingdom of God,’ through diverting public education dollars to far-right, private ‘Christian’ schools, and degrading teacher unions in the process, places her in common company with the most extreme ideologues in the Trump cabinet,” said Malott.
Protesters of DeVos have gone to Facebook to express their dismay of her appointment, listing their public education background with the hash tag #productofpublicschools. Many have also criticized DeVos for her vague vision of higher education, a significant aspect of her position. It is unclear how DeVos will impact the Higher Education Act and West Chester University in particular.
“On his campaign trail, Trump promised to deregulate higher education,” said Malott. “It is not clear what this might mean and DeVos has not said much in regards to higher education. Depending on how the DeVos team rewrites the Higher Education Act, which is up for reauthorization, she could impact student loan programs with potential negative implications for West Chester students.”
Kinjal Shah is a third-year student majoring in English writings track. She can be reached at KS826308@wcupa.edu.