The past three years of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ management of America’s public school system have been defined entirely by a systematic assault on the protective regulations that shield our most vulnerable students and a palpable contempt for the institution of public schools as a whole.
Whether it was rolling back President Obama’s rules governing campus sexual assault, revoking a guidance aiming to curb racial discrimination in schools, stripping transgender students of their rights, or cutting off debt relief for students defrauded by fake for-profit “colleges,” she has done nothing but heap hardship on America’s most vulnerable students and enable some of the worst fraudsters that American capitalism has ever produced.
Her petty cruelties, cartoonish malice, and preposterous incompetence were put on full display during today’s House hearing on the president’s 2021 budget request as Democratic Representatives demanded justification for the $5.6 billion in cuts to education sought by the White House and her efforts to shunt even more public money to private charter schools, which are hotbeds of corruption and tools for racial segregation.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) confronted DeVos over reports showing an astonishingly high rate of charter school failures and gave her the ugly numbers:
“On academic performance, we know in charter schools one out of six do better than public schools, half are the same, and two out of six perform worse on academic performance, but there’s something even worse, what we bought with this spending…a thousand charter schools program grants were given out by the Department of Education were given to schools that never opened or later closed because of mismanagement or poor performance or fraud… another report from last December say its actually worse than that, it was 2,127 schools out of 5,286 that actually never opened or failed, that’s 40.5% failure rate on charter schools. That’s an F grade.”
Her response was to pull the “fake news” card, but when pushed for the “real” numbers from the Department of Education, she could not produce them and instead argued that it was the “states” who had the figures.
.@repmarkpocan: 40% of charter schools that you're giving grant to are closing down
BETSY DeVOS: That's a totally debunked report. It's just propaganda
POCAN: So what percent of charters are failing? Do you have an idea?
P: You're the secretary of education! pic.twitter.com/92K13Awaav
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 27, 2020
Pocan went on to demand answers for a small example of the outrageous corruption and thievery that the Trump administration is enabling through its charter school grant program:
“Also, there was a school, the Idea charter chain, that had been awarded about $200 million in federal funds…yet this is some of what they’ve spent their money on: they had $400,000 going to a luxury box in tickets for Spurs tickets…they purchased a property from one of their board members for $1.7 million…another board member got the commission on that sale… Only after a lot of scrutiny did the CEO back off on a plan to lease a private jet for $2 million a year over six years… Do you think charter schools should be allowed to use federal funding to purchase private jets?”
DeVos tried to argue that it was “not a yes or no question,” which was immediately responded to with “actually yes it is” from an incredulous Mark Pocan. “If you can’t answer a yes or no question I don’t know why you should be the Secretary.” An embarrassing display of protest and deflection from DeVos ensues.
.@repmarkpocan: "Do you think charter schools who receive federal funding should be allowed to use those funds to purchase private jets? A yes or no question."
Sec. Betsy DeVos: "It's not a yes or no question."
Pocan: "Actually it is. Actually it really is." pic.twitter.com/93CnQV4TAZ
— The Hill (@thehill) February 27, 2020
It’s clear from DeVos’ protestations, the appallingly high rate of charter school failures, and the lengths to which she refuses to condemn the use of public funds for selfish corruption that she has no regard for America’s students or their education and views her position as an opportunity to dismantle our public schools and funnel taxpayer dollars to her rich friends.
Her disgust at the very idea of using the federal government to protect vulnerable children was so obvious that Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MASS) demanded that she resign for her “appalling” refusal to stand up for our students.
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 27, 2020
We couldn’t agree more.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.