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Trump Ed-Sec Pick Betsy DeVos: Poised to Promote Vouchers above All Else

November 23, 2016

On November 23, 3016, President-elect Donald Trump announced his choice for US secretary of education: Michigan billionaire voucher advocate, Betsy DeVos.

Much has been written about Trump’s selection of DeVos, including information on her background– and the DeVos substantial funding of the Republican National Committee. As Jane Mayer of the November 23, 2016, New Yorker reports:

“My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee,” she wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. “I have decided to stop taking offense,” she wrote, “at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”

“People like us,” she added archly, “must surely be stopped.”

Mayer continues:

In the 2016 campaign, DeVos continued to spend heavily, but not in favor of Trump, who, she declared, “does not represent the Republican Party.” Evidently, she has changed her mind about that, and he has changed his about the merits of “the donor class.”

Emma Brown of the November 23, 2016, Washington Post has more on DeVos’ push for school vouchers, which is hand-in-glove with Trump’s declared-yet-sketchy intentions to use $20 billion to goad states into expanding school choice in a manner that could be the largest effort to nationalize portability of funding (given that such portability did not make it into the final version of Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA):

Betsy DeVos is hardly a household name, but the Michigan billionaire and conservative activist has quietly helped change the education landscape in many states, spending millions of dollars in a successful push to expand voucher programs that give families taxpayer dollars to pay for private and religious schools.

Now DeVos is poised to spread her preference for vouchers nationwide. President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday named her as his nominee for education secretary, a pick that suggests he aims to follow through with campaign promises to expand the movement toward “school choice” — including vouchers and charter schools — in an effort to break up a public education system that he has called “a government-run monopoly.” …

Trump has proposed redirecting $20 billion in federal spending toward a grant program for states to expand vouchers and charter schools. He has also said that he wants to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to persuade states to devote another $110 billion toward vouchers — enough, he has said, for every child living in poverty to have a scholarship of $12,000 toward the school of his or her choice.

Kate Zernike of the New York Times adds information about DeVos’ influence over choice in Michigan– privileged influence that defiantly buys what does not work and faces no direct consequence for the destructive purchase:

Michigan is one of the nation’s biggest school choice laboratories, especially with charter schools. The Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids school districts have among the nation’s 10 largest shares of students in charters, and the state sends $1 billion in education funding to charters annually. Of those schools, 80 percent are run by for-profit organizations, a far higher share than anywhere else in the nation.

The DeVoses, the most prominent name in state Republican politics, have been the biggest financial and political backers of the effort.

But if Michigan is a center of school choice, it is also among the worst places to argue that choice has made schools better. As the state embraced and then expanded charters over the past two decades, its rank has fallen on national reading and math tests. Most charter schools perform below the state average.

And a federal review in 2015 found “an unreasonably high” percentage of charter schools on the list of the state’s lowest-performing schools. The number of charter schools on that list had doubled since 2010, after the passage of a law a group financed by Ms. DeVos pushed to expand the schools. The group blocked a provision in that law that would have prevented failing schools from expanding or replicating.

So, now we have in Trump and DeVos a situation similar to that of Obama and Duncan in 2009: A plan to lure state governors and ed superintendents into accepting federal money in exchange for following some supposed top-down revolution.

For Obama and Duncan, it was Race to the Top, which pushed for common standards and dangled federal money to pay for the associated consortium assessments.

For Trump and DeVos, it will be vouchers/portability of funding.

In other words, vouchers will be the Trump-DeVos version of the Obama-Duncan Common Core and the accompanying PARCC/Smarter Balanced assessments.

ESSA has language in it to prevent the US secretary of education from prescribing certain educational standards and assessments in conjunction with Title I. Moreover, federal promotion of Common Core is specifically excluded by name in ESSA. However, ESSA has no specific language to prevent DeVos from pushing vouchers/portability of funding as the “preferred solution” to address turning around the bottom five percent of schools that all states will have.

Indeed, DeVos will have three ways in which to push school choice: 1) Outside of ESSA as part of Trump’s “Voucher to the Top” (for want of whatever name under which he will choose to package it); 2) As part of ESSA Title I and the manner in which she could pressure states regarding state plans for the “turning around” of the bottom five percent of schools in each state, and 3) as part of ESSA Title IV, Part C, “Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools.”

(Note that the federal government always refers to charter schools as “quality charter schools” in trade mark fashion. The term has nothing to do with actual quality, which seems to be right up DeVos’ alley given her history of actively promoting the expansion of charter schools deemed to be failing.)

One can reasonably expect that under Trump and DeVos, federal charter school funds will not receive proper oversight. Such will be in keeping with charter school funding under both G. W. Bush and Obama. (Ironically, when Trump introduced his choice block grant idea in September 2016, he did so in Ohio at a charter school that was failing by state standards.)

As for Trump’s stating his intention to fund his “Voucher to the Top” (my substitute name) using $20 billion: This amount appears to be linked to nothing definite. Some have speculated that Trump will raid ESSA Title I funding; however, it is not likely that Congress will just toss aside funding Title I and vote to instead send the money to fund a campaigned big idea that Trump could write on the surface of a cocktail napkin.

Title I funding is written into ESSA and is therefore part of the law.

The reality is that Trump’s “Voucher to the Top” financing would come from a source outside of ESSA. Moreover, Trump did not specify that the entire $20 billion would happen in a single year.

Whether Congress allots $20 billion to Trump’s signature voucher push remains to be seen– as does the manner in which donor class ed sec DeVos will likely promote Vouchers Above All Else.

betsy-devos  Betsy DeVos


Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. “Traditional American Virtues” = $$$
    And GOP integrity can always be bought …

  2. Denis Ian permalink

    I know I’m gonna be called a heretic. Or worse.

    And I’m gonna get beaten up. (Yo! Adrian!)

    Why is anyone really shocked? Trump’s been ripping down walls for months. This is just another one.

    Donald Trump betrayed no one with his pick of Betty DeVos. In fact, he serviced his larger, more prominent promise … IF we had bothered to listen carefully enough. He’s been a champion of Ed-Exit since he entered politics. He loathes intrusive government and rails against bureaucrats and educrats who stand in the way of change. Didn’t lots of us like that message?

    Well … he delivered. Just as he said he would.

    To Trump, the unacceptable situation in much of inner-city, Black America is directly related to a perpetual state of failure in some public schools. He asked those inner-city parents to trust him to make things better for their kids … and this is his first step in fulfilling that promise.

    More than any other issue, Betsy DeVos … the Secretary of Education appointee … is at war with the single structure of education that has been in place since forever. And we should NOT immediately assume that future charters under this administration will look like old charters. We all … me included … assume too much. We’re in the early stages of a Great Disturbance … a Great Upset of the familiar … and we should see what emerges before we pound our fists.

    DeVos wants public schools to compete for resources … that’s money, folks … just like other schools. And that, she insists, is the way to improved performance. The old “Put up or shut up”.

    DeVos loathes the lack of school choice … and the lack of competition in schools today. And Trump feels the same way … and why wouldn’t he? He comes from the world of competition. It’s what he understands best.

    In recent times, her Common Core stance has become murky, and I’ll wager it’ll soon be on the back burner because of her greater crusade to bust up the monopolistic public school system. It may fade away in a slow wilt.

    Expect some sort of blurry statement about declawing Common Core, but you’ll starve looking for specifics. Her energy is directed to school choice … and that’s why she was chosen. She fits Trump’s cure for his indictment of inner-city schools.

    And the betrayal thing?

    In Trump’s mind, there is none.

    He is still paying high homage to local control … and allowing civic involvement in the schools. But there’s a caveat: those schools need to show performance excellence in the face of increased competition. The days of automatic financing have taken a new twist. The best get the bucks. The failures get the gate. Those are the rules he understands.

    One other point.

    He never showed much sympathy for teachers. Or unions. He sees their poor performances in many of these disturbing situations. He saw them as many do … self-serving and self-centered. Here’s some truth: he is … like all of us … a kid-first supporter. A fair-shake sort.

    Now those folks outside of the inner city … and that’s lots of us … will scream betrayal. And, in your mind, you’ve been let down. Back-stabbed. Left high and dry. But that’s because YOU chose to emphasize what YOU wanted to emphasize throughout the campaign. YOU chose to hear only what YOU wanted to hear. YOU used YOUR prism and YOUR prism only. He’s saving the kids in the worst situations. And for once … they’re first in line. And I’m glad.

    Be honest …

    Trump seldom went past a generic statement about Common Core. But he gave plenty of words and strength and energy to schools that were failing, and teachers who were failing, and unions that were part of all of that failure.

    Then he coupled those observations in his plea to inner-city parent/voters to trust him. And now … he’s zeroing in on the most dire educational circumstances in the country. And it seems that he expects suburban schools to manage well enough … and he expects you to be champions for your kids. Which you are.

    I promised to be the champion for kids with no champions. Is there anyone who sees unfairness in this? Unhappy to see these kids finally at the head of the line?

    Denis Ian

    p.s. She certainly wasn’t my first choice.

  3. Denis, Trump is not a champion of change– he’s a champion of money. DeVos is an interesting choice because she is GOP establishment (Jeb Bush would have happily made her his SecEd and went on facebook to applaud the choice), she’s all in for vouchers (she’ll accept charter-choice if she must), and because she wants tax dollars to flow freely to white Christian schools.

    Detroit is in the shape it’s in because DeVos money has shaped Michigan policy, and what that plicy says is “Let’s stop spending money on Those People. We were only doing so because some intrusive federal program said we had to spend money on Those People, which is one more reason that we must get the feds out of everything and let our Betters (aka rich white folks) determine where money must be rightly spent.

    • I too would change a word in the statement that Trump “loathes intrusive government and rails against bureaucrats and educrats who stand in the way of change.” From my own experience, truth lies not in the fact that our current eduformers want change, they want PROFIT. Pure and simple.

  4. Moneyed interests have always found religious fundamentalists to be convenient tools in gaining dominion over government. That is why we will not preserve the wall between church and state until we repair the wall between corporations and state.

  5. The severest form of taxation without representation is taxing people for the support of religions they do not share. That is the main thing Betsy DeVos is about.

  6. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Can anyone figure the basic math of $12,000 per student with either a definition of poverty via poxy a–qualifies for a free lunch (FL) — or b, qualifies for a reduced price lunch( RPL).
    These are the most common proxies for “poverty.” Costs for a single school year might look quite different depending on the choice–or any other designation of “poverty.

    Also, what are the likely costs of sustaining these allocations for a single cohort of kindergarten students, if the start year was the fall of 2017 and there is no cost of living adjustment?

    I am not up to the math but I hope someone has done some hypotheticals.

    Also, there needs to be a clear message that vouchers mean schools choose students, not the that students get to choose schools. That will be the case if the Michigan model with no real regulation becomes the national model. The frauds committed under the DeVos/Michigan model need to be wide crculated.

  7. Reblogged this on David R. Taylor-Thoughts on Education and commented:
    So voucher advocate is the new Sec. of Ed then that doesn’t do much for returning local control back to the districts.

  8. Dear Schneider,

    My name is Ming -Yang Lee, a special education teacher in Taiwan. This article is very interesting and meaningful.

    I wonder if you agree to let me translate some parts of this article into Chinese and introduce it through my nonporfit blog to my countrymen?

    I will make it clear that where this article first appeared and specify the publication date and the link for this article.

    My blog is here:

    Kindly regards,


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. A Clear and Present Danger—How the New Administration Endangers Us All — The Art of Teaching Science
  2. Education Bloggers Network – Blogs about DeVos | EduBloggers
  3. From the Archive: A Clear and Present Danger—How the New Administration Endangers Us All | Jack Hassard’s Blog

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