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Hard lessons for Betsy DeVos: Will she stay or will she go?


Over the last few months, news reports have touched on Betsy DeVos' rising frustration with the inflexible bureaucracy of the U.S. Department of Education, the limited power of her office and the failure to get traction on her school choice agenda.

Now, a profile in Politico is fueling speculation that there will be a short tenure for her as Secretary of Education. Huffington Post asked last night: "Will Betsy DeVos Make It A Year As U.S. Education Secretary?"

Let me say this upfront: I think DeVos has probably been surprised at the limits of her office, but I don't see strong evidence that she will resign or be forced out. She is a true believer in her cause and still has a national podium with which to promote her education philosophy.

Describing DeVos as treading water, the in-depth profile by Tim Alberta in Politico says:

She has yet to fill senior staff positions, and it’s widely known that numerous prominent Republicans having turned down offers. She has struggled to acclimate to the proverbial big ship that turns slowly. Perhaps most significant, she failed to persuade the committees of jurisdiction in Congress to approve her and the department’s budget request, which would have slashed funding to other initiatives in the name of expanding DeVos’ pet cause, school choice. It amounted to an embarrassing repudiation of a president and a secretary in their first year, when there is traditionally the most political capital to spend—especially considering Republicans control both the House and Senate.

“She can talk about bureaucracy and how constraining it is for her, but a Republican-controlled Congress rejected her budget proposals. She can’t fill her senior staff slots. Morale is terrible at the department,” says Thomas Toch, the director of FutureEd, an independent education think tank at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy. “And I’ll tell you, in Washington education circles, the conversation is already about the post-DeVos landscape, because the assumption is she won’t stay long. And for my money, I don’t think it would be a bad thing if she left. I think she’s been probably one of the most ineffective people to ever hold the job.”

In the profile, DeVos complains the Trump transition team sent her into the contentious Senate confirmation hearings "undercoached." (She will never live down her grizzly bear response to why guns are needed in schools.) Nor did DeVos agree with the Trump team's strategy of keeping her away from the press during that time, telling Politico, "So it gave weeks and weeks of open shots for my opponents to take.”

That may seem surprising candor from the appointee of a mercurial president known to value loyalty above all else. Either DeVos feels secure in her job or doesn't see a future in it.  I would argue for the former -- she has the support of the president and believes her job is safe.

In the end, the Politico writer suggests DeVos will hang in there, despite her thinned expectations of what she can accomplish, writing: "Anyone betting against DeVos serving all four years of Trump’s first term—which, she tells me, she plans to do—is underestimating the sense of duty and moral righteousness deeply embedded in someone who could be doing just about anything else right now. "


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.