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Sen. Elizabeth Warren: I oppose Betsy DeVos because of her contempt for public education

A Senate committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on Trump education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Her nomination is likely to earn easy passage despite a groundswell of opposition from both expected and unexpected sources.

A Michigan billionaire, DeVos has never held a job in education, but has used her family's Amway fortune to promote school choice and vouchers. Donald Trump has called for widespread use of vouchers, although he's been unclear how he would underwrite a proposed $20 billion federal voucher program.

After interviewing DeVos  last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., issued this statement today:

I will vote against Betsy DeVos's nomination to serve as Secretary of Education because her nomination is not in the best interests of the young people of America. She has repeatedly demonstrated her contempt for public education, she plans to maintain financial ties that could create conflicts of interest, and she is unwilling to commit to be a cop on the beat with for-profit colleges that break the law and cheat students.

Mrs. DeVos has no record in higher education, but I gave her the opportunity to prove to the American people that she is serious about standing up for students. During her confirmation hearing, I asked Mrs. DeVos basic, straightforward questions about her commitment to protecting students and taxpayers from fraud committed by shady for-profit colleges. But she was unwilling to commit to using the Department's many tools and resources to keep students from getting cheated.

Mrs. DeVos's record on K-12 education has been focused on using her vast fortune to push her own ideology on hardworking families that are just trying to get their kids a decent education in public schools. Not only are her ideas completely uninformed by experience with public schools, but the evidence is clear that her privatization theories are bad for students.

I've heard from thousands of teachers, parents, and education leaders in Massachusetts raising deep concerns about Mrs. DeVos. I hear their concerns, and I share their concerns. This includes a letter sent to me from the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association about Mrs. DeVos's devastating record of promoting for-profit and online charter schools with virtually no accountability or oversight for how well these schools actually serve students and families.

Unlike the successful, thoughtful, and innovative education policies we have implemented in Massachusetts with regard to public charter schools, the policies Mrs. DeVos has bankrolled have drained valuable taxpayer dollars out of the public education system in Michigan and left kids worse off.

It is hard to imagine a less qualified or more dangerous person to be entrusted both with our country's education policy and with a trillion-dollar student loan program. Congress should reject Mrs. DeVos's nomination.

DeVos' support from charter school proponents is not unanimous. Her opposition to efforts to rein in the under-performing for-profit charter sector and her resistance to stronger accountability in her home state of Michigan worries some advocates. Detroit has some of the worst performing charter schools in the country and some of the weakest accountability levers.

In a blog posting, Steven Zimmerman, co-director of the Coalition of Community Charter Schools, wrote:


It’s understandable that Betsy DeVos would find a reservoir of goodwill from national and local charter school advocates. But the unabashed embrace she’s received from many of them as nominee for Secretary of Education is hurting the charter school brand and all of us who are working to sustain an innovative sector of autonomous and accountable public schools.

This is not because she seems to be a stranger to pedagogy, although it would be nice if she knew the difference between proficiency and growth. Nor is this because of her poor grasp of education law, although an understanding would, in a better world, be prerequisite for the job. It’s because her sole qualification for the position, apart from the money her family has lavished on politicians of a certain persuasion, is her extreme position on “market-based” education reform.

God save us from our friends

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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.