Why DFER’s Shavar Jeffries Must Support Ed Sec Betsy DeVos
On November 17, 2016, the corporate reform pseudo-Democratic organization, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) President Shavar Jeffries released a statement strongly discouraging any Democrat from accepting the position of US secretary of education under President-elect Donald Trump, purportedly because ed reform is a progressive idea and Trump is not progressive, as Jeffries notes in the following DFER-posted excerpt:
“The policies and rhetoric of President-elect Trump run contrary to the most fundamental values of what it means to be a progressive committed to educating our kids and strengthening our families and communities. He proposes to eliminate accountability standards, cut Title I funding, and to gut support for vital social services that maximize our students’ ability to reach their potential. And, most pernicious, Trump gives both tacit and express endorsement to a dangerous set of racial, ethnic, religious, and gender stereotypes that assault the basic dignity of our children, causing incalculable harm not only to their sense of self, but also to their sense of belonging as accepted members of school communities and neighborhoods.
“For these reasons, no Democrat should accept appointment as Secretary of Education, unless and until President-elect Trump disavows his prior statements and commits to educating the whole child and supporting the communities and families they depend on.”
On November 23, 2016, Trump selected Michigan billionaire and Republican charter and voucher pusher, Betsy DeVos, as his nominee for ed secretary. That same day, DFER’s Jeffries released the following statement congratulating DeVos on her nomination:
“DFER congratulates Betsy DeVos on her appointment as Secretary of Education, and we applaud Mrs. DeVos’s commitment to growing the number of high-quality public charter schools.
“However, DFER remains deeply concerned by much of the President-elect’s education agenda, which proposes to cut money from Title I and to eliminate the federal role on accountability. These moves would undermine progress made under the Obama administration to ensure all children have access to good schools. In addition, our children are threatened by many of the President-elect’s proposals, such as kicking 20 million families off of healthcare, deporting millions of Dreamers, and accelerating stop-and-frisk practices. We hope that Mrs. Devos will be a voice that opposes policies that would harm our children, both in the schoolhouse and the families and communities in which our children live.
“Finally, regardless of one’s politics, Trump’s bigoted and offensive rhetoric has assaulted our racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, causing millions of American children to perceive that they are less than full members of our communities. We hope Mrs. DeVos will push the President-elect to disavow such rhetoric.”
Note that Trump has disavowed no previous statements (Jeffries’ condition for no Democrat accepting an ed sec nomination). Still, it seems that Jeffries believed congratulations were in order for Republican DeVos.
Interestingly, Jeffries makes no mention of Trump’s push for vouchers and DeVos’ decidedly pro-voucher bent. On the contrary, he “applauds” DeVos commitment to charter schools.
In reporting on Jeffries’ statement on the DeVos appointment, education historian Diane Ravitch offers the following observations:
Note that the DFER statement does not mention vouchers, which is DeVos’ most cherished goal, nor does it acknowledge that DeVos paid out $1.5 million to Michigan legislators to block ANY oversight of charter schools. Nor does it refer to Michigan’s for-profit charters, which are 80% of all charters in the state. Nor does it make any mention of public schools, which enroll 94% of all public school children (excluding those in religious and independent schools, which are about 10% of the total).
The reformers are in a pickle. They can’t claim fealty to Trump, because they pretend to be Democrats. But Trump has embraced the reformer agenda, lock, stock and barrel. This statement is one way of handling their dilemma: embrace DeVos–a figure who finances the far-right and wants completely unregulated, unaccountable choice, and simultaneously chide Trump for his hateful rhetoric. Pretend to be Democrats while saluting her. Search for any gift she ever made to a real civil rights group to offset the tens of millions the DeVos has invested in rightwing groups that are hostile to equity.
So, let’s get down to it. Why would Jeffries acknowledge the DeVos appointment at all?
Well, because DFER already has a relationship with both a DeVos’ nonprofit as well as a DeVos-chaired nonprofit– a financial relationship.
First, a smidge of DFER background is in order:
“Democrats for Education Reform” is not the name of any registered nonprofit. DFER is a political committee that stemmed from a nonprofit originally named Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee, which dissolved in 2007, with its assets going to the 501c3 nonprofit, Education Reform Now (ERN) and the political committee, DFER. Also in 2007, ERN (the 501c3 behind DFER) added a lobbying nonprofit (a 501c4), named Education Reform Now (ERN) Advocacy. (This history is captured in these nonprofit tax forms: ern-ad-comm-2006-990 and ern-ad-2007-990).
Moreover, regarding the fact that ERN is the nonprofit behind DFER, one can see on ERN’s 2014 990 tax form, ern-2014-990. Jeffries is identified as the organization’s president. Too, ERN, ERN Advocacy, and DFER all share the same address: 325 Gold Street, Brooklyn.
Thus, DFER is ERN/ ERN Advocacy.
Let’s bring Trump ed sec DeVos into this mix:
DeVos’ American Federation for Children (AFC) is also a lobbying nonprofit (501c4), just like ERN Advocacy. According to AFC’s 2010 990 tax form, afc-2010-990, AFC was formerly known as Advocates for School Choice (perhaps that name was a bit too progressive-sounding).
If one considers the mission statements of the two organizations, ERN and ERN Advocacy dance around the supposedly “progressive” idea of choice even as AFC gets right to it:
ERN mission statement from its 2014 tax form (linked above):
THE ORGANIZATION CONDUCTED PROGRAMS DESIGNED TO DEVELOP POLICY ALTERNATIVES IN EDUCATION, FOCUSING ON REFORM FOR UNDERFUNDED AND UNDERPERFORMING INSTITUTIONS
Next, the mission of ERN Advocacy (see its 2014 tax form: ern-ad-2014-990):
AWARENESS AND EDUCATION CAMPAIGN FOR REFORM OFAMERICAN K12 PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEMS INCLUDING MEDIA RELATIONS WORK
And, finally, AFC’s mission (from tax form linked below) is much more openly “choicy”:
SUPPORT SCHOOL CHOICE PROGRAMS AND PROMOTE PASSAGE OF SCHOOL CHOICE LEGISLATION
However, lest one think that AFC and ERN Advocacy are peas of opposing pods, consider the ERN Advocacy “program accomplishments” noted on its 2014 tax form:
SUPPORT CANDIDATES FOR OFFICE WHO SUPPORT K-12 EDUCATION REFORM POLICIES ($5.7 million)
ADVOCATE FOR SYSTEMIC REFORM OR AMERICAN K-12 PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEMS ($1.4 million)
LOBBY FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL POLICYMAKERS NATIONWIDE ON K-12 EDUCATION REFORM ISSUES, INCLUDING PUBLIC SCHOOL CHOICE, SCHOOL AND TEACHER ACCOUNTABILITY, AND PUBLIC SCHOOL FUNDING ($32,442)
Thus, ERN Advocacy’s (and, by extension, ERN’s and DFER’s) usage of the term “ed reform” incorporates “school choice.”
AFC wants school choice. ERN wants school choice.
As for the money: DeVos is a DFER patron, so to speak:
In 2010, AFC gave ERN Advocacy $40,000 for “community organizing,” and in 2014, AFC gave ERN Advocacy another $40,000, this time for “educational choice support in AZ and WI.” (See AFC’s 2010 and 2014 tax forms: afc-2010-990 and afc-2014-990).
But there’s more.
DeVos also chairs the nonprofit, Alliance for School Choice (ASC). In 2010, ASC gave ERN Advocacy $10,000 for “general support,” and in 2014, ASC granted ERN Advocacy $55,000 for “general support for efforts in WI and AZ.” (See ASC’s 2010 and 2014 tax forms here: asc-2010-990 and asc-2014-990.)
Democrat Jeffries cannot come down hard on Republican DeVos, even if Trump is rude and crude and both she and Trump plan to lure states into their Race for the Voucher vision.
Well-connected Right-winger DeVos is a “progressive” funding source, which really means only one thing:
When it comes to school choice, there really is no “progressive.” DeVos as a DFER funding source mocks any attempt at such distinction.