Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addresses Education Department staff, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, at the Education Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)
Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Education Secretary on February 6th, 2016 in a tie broken with a vote cast by vice president Mike Pence.
President Trump’s nomination of DeVos was met with criticism due to her lack of an education degree, teaching or administrative experience, her support of charter schools and lack of experience with the public school system due to not having had attended it herself as well as not sending her children.
The billionaire is credited for being a businesswoman, philanthropist, and top political campaign contributor, donating $2.7 million to Republican candidates throughout the 2016 election.
Her business background comes from acting as chairwoman of Windquest Group, a privately held enterprise and investment management firm that she and her husband founded in 1989. DeVos was politically active in Michigan acting as Republican National Committeewoman from 1992-1997 and chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party from 1996 to 2000.
DeVos is also an advocate of privatizing public education as well as “school choice” serving as the chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, which supports charter schools and tax-credit scholarships. In fact, in 1993 she and her husband worked to pass Michigan’s first charter school bill.
What is the goal of institutes like charter schools and what effect do these institutions actually have on our education system?
Initially, the idea of a charter school seems harmless enough. As independently run public schools funded by state governments, the goal of charter schools is to provide parents who who can’t afford, or don’t want, to send their children to private school with more education options. Charter schools are applauded for their ability to focus on particular subject areas more extensively and for allowing educators to use different teaching methods.
However, critics claim that charter schools are draining funding from traditional public schools, reducing their resources. This harms public school districts and the children left attending them because they’re unable to attend a charter school. KIPP is the United States largest network of charter schools and, in 2015, it received an average of $800 more per student in public sources of revenue than local school districts. They’re also known for misspending public money almost four times as often as any other type of tax-payer funded agency. Some charter schools also receive private funding that is kept off the books.
Depending on the design of the school, charters are also criticized for the potential to lead to racial stratification.
In regards to academic performance, these schools aren’t scoring higher academically in comparison to traditional public schools like proponents expected. 119 charter schools have closed in Florida since 2008 due to low performance. 14 of these schools didn’t even finish their first academic year. In Detroit Michigan, however, these poor performing charter schools are remaining open due to lack of regulation, leading to more schools than students. But, while there is plenty of school choice, it has led to a huge lack in school quality.
Whether or not DeVos’ ideas for education reform, which failed horribly in Michigan, will work for the rest of the nation has yet to be seen. But, the evidence so far isn’t promising.